Great news, Tesla’s team built a 700 solar panels array in just 7 days to power el Hospital del Niño in Puerto Rico. I will piggy back on this achievement to share my opinion on the recent decisions made by Puerto Rico Electric Utility (PREPA).
The way the government of Puerto Rico alongside PREPA’s leadership have handled the decision making process that will dictate the energy future of Puerto Rico, leaves a lot to be desired. Let’s take a look at what PREPA has done thus far to fulfill the governor’s aggressive goal of “energizing” 95% of Puerto Rico by December 2017.
- Added 50MW of generation capacity at a cost of $35.1 million to the Palo Seco Generation plant located in the northern part of the island. These generators are based on fossil fuel sources.
- Plan to re-build more than 80% of the Transmission and Distribution lines completely destroyed by hurricane Maria to be able to carry generation produced in the south to the north, where the vast majority of the population is located.
- $240 million contract awarded to Texas-based Fluor Corp. to repair Transmission and Distribution lines.
- $300 million contract with a Whitefish, a 2-years old Montana based company with 2 registered fulltime employees to repair Transmission and Distribution lines. There is speculation this company has connections with high level officials in Trump’s administration. All of its >300 employees have been contracted post the contract agreement.
We all know the definition of insanity, “doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results”. I guess it is pretty clear what the big picture is here. A few get rich at the expense of the misery of others and the poor are left behind with an even worst electrical system. The bureaucrats have decided, once again, to rebuild the same old and unreliable electrical system to fuel the future of the island for the benefits of a few.
I wonder why Puerto Rico is still stuck with the same thinking process that leads to exactly the same ineffective solutions. We can all attribute this to the colonial status of the island and the lack of control it has on its financial outcomes. I certainly concur this has an influence that shouldn’t be overlooked but there is something else, traits and behaviors that one can see when you watch and hear the politicians do a speech or answer questions in the media. Here is my hypothesis.
Lack of vision
It is clear to me that for years Puerto Rico have had leaders with a shortsighted vision; always thinking in 4-year political terms rather than in the long-term stability of the country. I believe this habit has hindered the ability for leaders to plan for higher amplitude lifespan. This is a habit that needs to be cultured.
When was the last time that a Puertorican leader was venerated by all? I can’t name one during my lifetime. People in Puerto Rico need leaders that inspire them. That create the illusion that even during harsh times things will be ok, because our leader ‘will take care of us’. In all the media interviews, people’s reaction to government’s aid is “we better fix it ourselves because no one else will”. This is not how a government entity should be view and it harms the emotional and psychological state of its people. The lack of true leadership is a problem that can only be solved by Puertoricans.
The poisonous tentacles of politics have led to the fragmentation of Puerto Rican society. The high (10%), middle (40%) and low income (50%) rarely know each other exists. Puertorican culture needs to be revamped and the main focus should be the cultivation of what it means to be a united Puertorican culture. A culture for the people and with a focus on building a peaceful and thoughtful social entity. In simple words, the government should focus on nourishing union amongst its citizen.
Puerto Rico is blessed with flowing rivers that erode the green mountains of La Cordillera Central. Jaw dropping turquoise beaches that provide the space for peace amongst boricuas. For several decades Puertoricans were sold the American Dream, industrialization. The issue is not industrialization itself but rather its widespread destruction due to failures in public policies to protect natural resources. The people of Puerto Rico need to revert back to its values and understand that is either with nature or with nothing.
If all seems to be going downhill, where do we go from here? There is still hope. With $500 million already invested, the electricity utility might get power to the metropolitan area but that is about 40-50-% of the population, what about the rest? The truth is that to have efficient Distributed Energy Systems (DERs), thoughtful planning has to be done to urban and rural planning. These two go along with each other. Examples like Netherlands and Germany showcase this fact. Puerto Rico can use the now thousands of homeless citizens and reallocate them to carefully identified safe areas where they could prosper and contribute to the local economy. Instead of building resource intensive energy systems to reach isolated areas, we can bring the “load” to the “source”. High density urban designs should be a priority to quickly bring electricity to the people. This will then enable a better logistic planning for renewable energy to take place. Puerto Rico’s energy system should become a decentralized (low population) and centralized (high population) to increase distribution efficiencies and allow for distributed generation to take place.
This isn’t rocket science but the government and PREPA need to take time to think and plan for a green and sustainable future instead of thinking in short term gains.