Shortly after Hurricane Maria struck the island of Puerto Rico, I penned a piece for Greentech Media exploring whether the residents could overcome a colonial past to build a greener grid. The Black Start conference in March 2019 convened on- and off-island energy experts to discuss whether this was still possible as the island’s governor insisted on privatizing the (corrupt) public utility and as new legislation was recently passed to require 100% renewable energy.
Puerto Rico’s future is bright, if it can maintain ownership of its electricity system and maintain accountability of its management. Already, several on-island efforts are working toward that goal. Queremos Sol (“we want solar”) is a coalition of advocates focused on solar energy projects that reduce power bills for customers even as they make the vulnerable grid more resilient. Another proposal, focused on the thousands of customers who lacked service for months, focuses on building resilient solar+battery systems for the most vulnerable residents.
The video below shares my remarks, with the accompanying slides below. A summary follows:
- The term “black start” means to start or restore power. This is Puerto Rico’s opportunity to restore local power and accountability.
- The colonial history lingers and must be confronted. For example, the last federally appointed governor started a tradition of electricity giveaways to municipalities that costs customers over $100 per year.
- The governor supports privatizing the utility, but accountability measures––the creation of an Energy Commission to oversee the utility––already did that. Private ownership will simply remove the potential for any financial benefits to accrue to islanders.
- Investing in local ownership will pay significant dividends, in terms of local spending, jobs, and economic development.
- Cooperative ownership is a powerful tool to capture economic benefits, local accountability, and to raise capital.
This article originally posted at ilsr.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell or Marie Donahue on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly update. Also check out over 50 episodes of the Local Energy Rules podcast!
Photo credit: Center for a New Economy