Oct 5, 2022 • 33M

Puerto Rico's electricity crisis

A chat with lawyer and activist Ruth Santiago about the abysmal state of Puerto Rico's grid.

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Episode details

A couple of weeks ago, Hurricane Fiona struck Puerto Rico's southwest coast as a Category 1 storm. Even before the hurricane struck, the entire grid went down and the island was without power. Weeks later, power still hasn't been entirely restored. For Puerto Ricans, it is a nightmarish reminder of Hurricane Maria, which struck the island almost exactly five years earlier took the grid out for months.


After Maria, the Trump administration talked a big game about recovery and billions of dollars were set aside through FEMA, but on the ground, very little has changed. Puerto Rico's utility, PREPA, has declared bankruptcy and the grid was privatized, given over to a private company called Luma.

According to most Puerto Ricans, Luma has done very little to repair the existing grid and shows no interest at all in building a more modern, decentralized grid. Some islanders have been able to buy rooftop solar, which has proven invaluable in the past few weeks, but US tax credits are not available there and few can afford the upfront cost of PV & battery systems.

Ruth Santiago (Photo: Earthjustice)
Ruth Santiago (Photo: Earthjustice)

I wanted to talk to someone on the ground, who has seen these problems firsthand, so I called Ruth Santiago. Santiago is a lawyer and activist who has worked with numerous environmental justice groups in Puerto Rico. Lately, she has been advocating for the spread of rooftop solar and microgrids, to offer islanders greater resilience against future storms.

Her own rooftop solar was the only reason Santiago was able to connect with me, but unfortunately, the internet connection was not able to support a conversation. However, I really wanted to hear from someone on the island, so we created this podcast in a somewhat unusual and old-fashioned way: I recorded questions and sent them to her; she recorded answers and sent them back.

Consequently, this pod lacks some of the conversational atmosphere I normally like, but I think it is extremely informative. My thanks to Santiago for all her efforts in getting this to work.