Puerto Rico is still struggling with the effects of Hurricane Maria, and they need more than one bold action to fully recover. Of particular note is the lack of power infrastructure – the storm knocked down 75% of the islands transmission lines. In addition, the island is completely dependent on a single energy provider. It does not have any microgrids (small-scale power grids) nor does it have a significant number of solar energy users.
The official statement from the White House rated the disaster response “a 10.” However, the larger number of deaths show that the disaster response was not enough.
In the midst of the need to rebuild, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló started an exchange in Twitter with Elon Musk of Tesla. Tesla had earlier donated $250,000 of his own money towards the recovery efforts. Rosselló responded to a tweet by Musk, saying that Puerto Rico can serve as a “flagship project” for the scalability of Tesla batteries. Estimates show that up to 85% of the islands do not have power, and it can take up to 6 months before electricity can be fully restored.
Prior to the hurricane, Tesla already had a Puerto Rican distributor for its Powerpack battery storage solutions to the islands. Tesla had also delivered what it called the “first of many solar and storage projects” by restoring power to the Children’s Hospital (Hospital del Niño) in the capital, San Juan.
Meanwhile, the embattled Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) hired Whitefish Energy, based in Montana, to restore electricity. Usually, during disaster recovery efforts, it is the American Public Power Association which gives assistance. Lawmakers criticized the move and say that it does not make sense. In July, PREPA had filed for bankruptcy and admitted that it does not have the resources to repair the damage done by the hurricane. With only two employees, Whitefish Energy is receiving a contract worth $300 million. Gov. Rosselló requested for an audit of the contract, at the same time members of Congress are skeptical of the deal as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is from Whitefish, Montana.
Larger Death Toll
Hurricane Maria was one of two Category 5 storms that hit the Caribbean in late September. Since the storms hit, more than 900 people have died from different causes without an examination of a medical officer to determine if the storm caused them. The official death count as of end of October was 51. The rest of the deaths were due to “natural causes.” Critics point out that those who died due to heart attacks while in a hospital without any electricity or oxygen should also be in the list of Maria-related deaths.
The number of deaths is an indicator of the effectiveness of the relief efforts. The official statement from the White House rated the disaster response “a 10.” However, the larger number of deaths show that the disaster response was not enough. Puerto Rico’s Department for Public Safety released guidelines that the Institute of Forensic Sciences confirm the official count. A government medical examiner is also required to examine the bodies prior to cremation. At the same time, directors for funeral homes and crematorium said that they did not receive any official document informing them of the procedure to report suspected hurricane victims to the institute. The Puerto Rico government confirmed that there was no such official guidance.