Tuesday, September 27, 2022

How Solar Kept the Lights On After Fiona Left Puerto Rico in the Dark




September 20, 2022


Most of Puerto Rico remained in the dark Tuesday morning as crews rushed to assess and repair the damage caused by Hurricane Fiona, which continues to gather strength on its northwest path toward the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The U.S. territory suffered “catastrophic damage” over the weekend and through Monday, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said, after the Category 1 storm unleashed violent winds and torrential rain, killing at least three people, forcing hundreds more to evacuate and knocking out power for more than a million homes and businesses.


As of Tuesday morning, less than 150,000 of Puerto Rico’s 1.4 million public utility customers had working electricity, despite tens of billions of dollars in federal aid and a massive five-year effort to overhaul and modernize the island’s poorly maintained and unsound powergrid. But a growing number of Puerto Ricans, who have privately installed solar systems on the roofs of their homes and businesses, say the island-wide blackout caused by Fiona could have been entirely avoided, pointing to themselves as proof of a better way.

“We’re fine,” Arturo Massol-Deyá, who uses solar panels and battery storage to power his house, his office and several other buildings in Adjuntas, a mountainside town in central Puerto Rico, told me in an interview Monday afternoon. “Basically, we’re waiting for the sun to shine again—we don’t have damage, all the infrastructure is in place and it’s running. It was running during the hurricane.”


Since 2017, more than 40,000 Puerto Rican households have installed, or are in the process of installing, rooftop solar panels, according to a report released last week by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a progressive think tank that promotes renewable energy. The vast majority of those systems have been installed with battery storage, the report said, and currently provide 3.7 percent of the territory’s total electricity consumption, outpacing the island’s utility-scale projects.

But the report also criticizes the Puerto Rican government, which it says “continues its misguided push for natural gas” while building “no new renewable energy.”



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