By George Harvey
Puerto Rico is in trouble. When Hurricane Maria struck on September 20, it was a Category 4 storm, which means that the highest sustained wind speeds were over 130 mph. It was a storm much like Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas a little less than a month earlier, on August 26, and was the most destructive hurricane in the history of the United States. Maria was also rather like Hurricane Irma, which hit Florida less than two weeks earlier, on September 10, and was the most powerful storm ever to develop over the waters of the Atlantic Ocean (as opposed to the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean). Hurricane Maria was very much like those two record-breaking storms, except that it was in some ways the worst. It was the most intense storm of the season, with the lowest central pressure.
By the time Maria was done with Puerto Rico, it had completely destroyed the island’s transmission infrastructure. It also left thousands of people homeless. People are dying from heat exposure. They have very little water. They are running out of food.
The people of Puerto Rico are as much citizens of the United States as those who were born in New York or New England. They serve in the military, and they vote in national elections. I can personally bear witness to the fact that they are as capable of working hard and being productive as any group I have ever worked with. They are worthy people, and they need our help, because Hurricane Maria has left them without any electricity at all and has destroyed much of the transportation infrastructure.
Unfortunately, they are not getting the help they need from the federal government. After nine days, most areas in Texas that had lost power to Harvey had it back, as had most areas in Florida in the same time after Irma. But nine days after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico was hit, there has not been a single portion of the electrical grid that has been brought up again.
The situation is only getting worse. The governor of Puerto Rico has said it will take months, at the least, for many areas to get electric service restored. And with each passing day, more people get sick or die because of poor living conditions.
Nine days after the storm hit, a three-star general was assigned the job of getting things organized on the island. In our opinion, that is at least nine days longer than it should have taken. Nevertheless, the Trump administration is patting itself on the back for all its hard work.
We might observe that the navy should be engaged as well as the army. A fleet aircraft carrier typically has two nuclear reactors, with a combined power output of 550 megawatts (MW). One aircraft carrier could quite possibly power San Juan, bringing a semblance of normality to the lives of the people there. An action of this type was conducted by the USS Lexington (CV-2) in 1930, when it supplied 140 MW to the city of Tacoma for a month during a drought.
The federal government, however, seems to be too focused on reducing the services it provides to taxpayers to see its way clear to taking on the problem in Puerco Rico as a priority. President Trump has commented, which is proof, at least, that he is aware that Puerto Rico is part of the United States.
Perhaps the most dismaying statement about the island’s problem has come from Energy Secretary Rick Perry. He suggested that the island’s problems could be solved by installing a number of small modular nuclear reactors, an action that would take years to accomplish, if it can ever be done at all.
A better part of a solution to the problems of Puerto Rico has been suggested by an Australian web site, REneweconomy, in an article, “Trump officials have no clue how to rebuild Puerto Rico’s grid. But we do.” Their suggestion is to provide the island with a large number of renewably-powered microgrids. They can be put up quickly at low expense, and will provide a much more resilient electric supply for the future. The biggest problem with this is how to fund it, a problem we think the Trump administration might be unwilling to face.
We at Green Energy Times feel a need to reach out to assist our neighbors and fellow citizens in a time of need. We believe we can repower Puerto Rico by crowdfunding. We are not starting a campaign to do this on our own, but rather calling for towns, cites, and states, commercial businesses and industries, non-profit organizations, and anyone else who might wish to organize crowdfunding to do so. A single crowdfunding campaign can only have a small effect, compared with the overall need. But many local crowdfunded campaigns could provide many microgrids, in short time providing as much electric power as needed.
The goal would be to send small to medium sized renewable systems for households, neighborhoods, and communities to get power back to the areas of Puerto Rico that have no power. The cost of doing this is surprisingly low. A town in Vermont could easily put together enough materials to get the lights on in a neighborhood. A single large city in this country could conceivably get San Juan back on its feet.
The logistics of this need to be worked out. We could see the Army helping with establishing solar power in Puerto Rico, once the materials are supplied. In the mean time, this is something we should be talking about, as we meet with neighbors and friends.
Puerto Rico deserves and needs our help. And if we can save Puerto Rico, maybe we can see our way clear to saving the rest of the world, as well.