As the Caribbean prepared for the first major storm of the season—Hurricane Fiona—to make landfall, many people’s first thoughts were about the hardships Puerto Rico went through just five years ago. When the news started reporting of island-wide blackouts on Sunday evening, we thought, how could this be happening again? On the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, with relief spending still being allocated to reverse damage from the storm, it all seems very overwhelming. It leaves us wondering why the archaic grid was rebuilt using the same ancient technology for transmission and distribution of electricity. It is an outdated model that doesn’t work even with newer infrastructure.
Widespread damage from intense rain and wind, and as of Monday, major flooding occurred in various parts of the island, where residents were urged to move to higher ground, while the National Guard has arrived to help with rescue.
A small island east of the Dominican Republic and just 111 miles long, Puerto Rico is home to 3.2 million people. PowerOutages.us reported that all of the 1.4 million utility customers on the island were out of power, due to a ‘gridfailure’—meaning that the island, after the wide-spread structural devastation that it experienced in 2017, still went right back to a single-grid system. We know that rebuilding takes time, resources, and money, but isn’t there a better way, after the original system failed the community? Power has been slowly restored to 200,000 customers, including a hospital, but as of Tuesday morning the entire map of Puerto Rico remains without power, causing many problems such as being able to communicate and contact others, arrange for assistance, and receiving medical care.
With what we have learned from the long-term reconstruction from Hurricane Maria, why is Puerto Rico still using a nation-wide electric grid system, when storms are known to be unpredictable and the history of the grid has not performed to benefit the island in a time of a weather crisis?
With $28 billion of relief funding allocated to rebuild infrastructure in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, the best way to go forward is to get residents off the grid and switch to microgrid systems that ensure that the lights stay on during the Hurricane season, or that, at the very least, the entire island does not lose power. The people of Puerto Rico, our fellow Americans, deserve safe, reliable energy to power their homes, hospitals, and emergency centers when they need it most.