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Help from Vermont is on its way to Puerto Rico!

Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

By George Harvey

Regular visitors to the Green Energy Times website may recall an item that was posted on October 7, “Solar Power and Water for Puerto Rico.” In it, Joseph Mangum, who runs Sunnyside Solar in West Brattleboro, Vermont, made a plea for donations to help people in Puerto Rico who were suffering from the destruction brought on by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Joseph set up a gofundme campaign, www.gofundme.com/solargens4pr.

In his plea, Joseph said, “We are building solar generators and delivering water pump purifiers for the hardest hit areas. Solar generators have myriad uses. Medical needs such as refrigeration for insulin and power to phones for communication and information are two of the largest concerns.”

As I write this, a bit over $5,000 of the $20,000 goal has been donated. Joseph, however, is not waiting for until the campaign closes. With the money he has, he is already acting to bring relief to those who need it now.

Joseph contacted me by email yesterday to tell me that he was about to leave for Puerto Rico. He said this:

I leave for Boston tomorrow, Friday (Oct 27) and for San Juan bright and early Saturday morning (Oct 28). We are bringing 5 solar generators with us, but also other things:

  • 2 high volume water purifier pumps
  • 150 life straws
  • 20,000 seeds to replant agriculture
  • 20 individual food bags that consist of 5 lbs of rice, 1 lb of dried beans, 1 lb of dried lentils, 4 packages of instant mashed potatoes, 2 cans of tuna, and a small bag of dried fruit.

I wish we could bring down so much more on this plane ride down.

The current itinerary is to get the generators delivered during the week. We are going into the mountains in the central of the island and the going will be tough. So we are quite prepared for on-the-fly decision making. [Absence of communication] outside of San Juan also makes everything more complicated as well.

We are supposed to be meeting with both the mayors of Comerio and Jayuya, but we’ll see. With [communications] down and no set date for our arrival in either town.

After I got the email, I spoke with Joseph three times by phone. He added a lot to what he had said in that message. We had very little time to round out the details, so I am still unsure on some points. Hopefully, if anything needs to be enlarged upon or corrected, that will happen in due course.

The $5,000 of donations has been used to put together five solar systems. Each system consists of 1,000 watts of solar panels (I double checked that), a charge controller, and an inverter. Each system will also have a battery, though I believe Joseph has made arrangements to get the batteries in San Juan, because they are to heavy to go down on the plane.

Joseph is traveling with Mark Lamoureux who works in Keene, New Hampshire, installing solar systems. They are flying on an airline that permits two carry-on bags and two checked bags, and everything is going with them. Given the circumstances, this makes a great deal of sense. Shipping the equipment could take months, because conditions on the ground are terrible. Joseph and Mark will move everything themselves.

Joseph is well aware of the circumstances in Puerto Rico. His wife was raised there, and her family still lives there. Joseph also has a lot of connections, and he has been planning based on the information they provide. He said, “I’ll be 3 weeks on an island that is almost totally dark, with no safe water outside of a bottle to drink, no communications and certainly a limited window for email. People are scared, the mental anguish will be hard, seeing the devastating losses will hurt me, and the island I love and know as Boriken will have to be accepted as totally wiped. I will see my friends and family and hear their stories of struggle as well.”

Joseph’s many friends in Puerto Rico have already identified sites for the solar systems. All of them will go to municipalities in the interior of the island. In two cases, the towns are cut off completely. Not only do they have no electric power, they have no water, and the roads have been wiped out by the storm.

One of his friends sent a video with a set of aerial before-and-after pictures showing the storm damage. You can watch it at www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8niFuk75cc. Utuado, a town near the center of the island, where Joseph will set up one of the systems, is shown at the 5:06 time point. In the “before” picture, the bridge over the river, at the center of the screen, is fairly obvious. In the “after” picture, it is missing. Joseph does not know how he will get to the town, but he will try.

One of the systems will be set up at the shop of a local handy man, who is working to repair things for the people in his community. He has power tools, but he cannot use them because of a total lack of power. With the system in place, his progress on fixing things will be much faster. I want to point out that it was a relative who identified this man. Joseph is installing the system for the repair shop, and the relative will have to wait, because he is trying to install the systems where they will do the greatest good.

The other four systems will be installed at emergency shelters in community centers. Without power, the centers have no ventilation for people trying to sleep in crowded conditions. That can be a serious problem in the tropics, especially when people have to endure it night after night. Each system will power a small ventilation system at night, provide power during the daytime to charge cell phones and provide a wifi-to-satellite communication system. These system will provide valuable lifelines to a lot of people.

I found the fact that Joseph can provide solar systems, complete with battery backup, for $1 per watt, nothing short of astonishing. This is a fraction of the lowest price I have seen.

“We aren’t making any money doing this,” Joseph explained. “In fact we are using up a lot of our own money for traveling, and on food, water purifiers, and seeds.”

As to the solar systems, he told me he managed to get a special deal on the components from a helpful wholesaler. When I asked about using similar systems closer to home, he said he did not think that was an especially good idea. “These systems use panels designed for the tropics,” he said. “They are rated for temperatures of 60 to 100 degrees. They might not work well in Vermont.”

He added that because the emergency in Puerto Rico is happening now, he is providing systems that can be set up quickly and at low cost. So the components are very inexpensive, and not of the highest quality, precisely because more of them can be made for the same amount of money. They are needed now, and if more people can be helped by using equipment that might not last ten years, that is all right.

Joseph will be in areas with no internet access for a lot of the next three weeks. I made him promise to send me whatever news he could so I can pass it on. I cannot promise there will be any news at all during the three weeks. But whenever I can, I will pass it on.

Godspeed, Joseph.

 

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