The island of Puerto Rico is in a power crisis. It’s an issue that has been exacerbated by Hurricane Maria but, in actuality, pre-dated the storm. Now, sustainable-energy entrepreneur Elon Musk believes his solar storage technology is the answer to the crisis — and it looks like Puerto Ricans might agree.
On Oct. 5, Musk proposed via Twitter that his team over at Tesla and the company’s SolarCity subsidiary could rebuild Puerto Rico’s broken electrical system using its solar power and storage technology, in the same way they were able to provide renewable energy for the tiny American Samoa island of Ta’u. That is, Musk stipulated, should the government and people of Puerto Rico be willing — which it seems that they are.Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello was quick to respond to Musk on Twitter, suggesting that the island territory could serve as a flagship project to showcase and expand Tesla’s ability to harvest and store solar energy. According to Rossello, the two sides have since been in talks with “next steps soon to follow.”
Now, one may assume that in situations — sorry, absolute crises — like the one Puerto Rico is currently facing, the public sector (a.k.a the government) should assume responsibility for the repair of essential infrastructure. President Trump did declare the island a major disaster zone two weeks ago, unlocking basic emergency relief, and he did just ask Congress for a $4.9 billion loan to help Puerto Rico with its short-term liquidity — but the response was neither fast enough nor robust enough.
Hurricane Maria made landfall weeks ago, and it was weeks ago that Gov. Rossello called on the federal government to provide the same comprehensive emergency aid any other state would receive, reminding Congress that Puerto Ricans “are U.S. citizens.” Yet, more than 80% of the island territory remains without power. Now, weeks later (and, interestingly, right after Gov. Rossello announced his talks with Musk), Pres. Trump asks for a multi-billion dollar loan. Not relief funds, but a loan for a territory already deeply, deeply in debt.
The state of emergency in Puerto Rico is massive. As such, it will require massive funding to not only repair the immediate damage, but rebuild systems that were failing long before Maria hit. The relief funds and loans provided by the government will undoubtedly help in the short-term, but what of the long-term future of Puerto Rico?
That is Musk is proposing to come in. Rebuilding Puerto Rico’s electrical infrastructure with solar-power technology would not only provide an immediate solution (i.e. power) but also set the territory up with a measure of long-term stability that it has not had in years — regardless of bond debts.
This is, as Jake Novak of CNBC says, “a new approach [to disaster response] in many ways.” We are seeing the private sector respond quickly — much faster than the public, in this case — and in a way that goes beyond just building good public relations. Musk, and those like him, are choosing to invest in recovery. It is a mutually beneficial scenario.
As with most things, the privatization of Puerto Rico’s electrical grids is not without its opponents. Kate Aronoff of InTheseTimes.com has criticized the “fledgling deal” stating that it “looks to be fitting into a long-running pattern in Puerto Rico: Of Puerto Ricans having decisions made about nearly every aspect of life for them, without much semblance of democratic participation.”
Whether or not Puerto Rico decides to partner with Musk we will have to wait to see, but after several weeks of little improvement, there are now, at least, the beginnings of forward motion taking place.
Rossello and Musk have already been talking, and according to Rossello, next steps will happen “soon.” It is important to remember that when Rossello and the Puerto Rican people consider rebuilding this infrastructure, they are also taking into account how old and neglected the past system was. It is safe to assume an entire overhaul is not only wanted, but needed.
Puerto Rico desperately needs the money, and there is a lot of pressure on the government right now to truly show up for the Puerto Rican people.
It won’t be for lack of trying. Musk has plans to steadily increases the number of satellites and rockets launched by his company SpaceX. This, of course, is leading up to the eventual launching of humans towards new colonies on the moon and Mars. However, we won’t be setting up shop on Mars before Puerto Rico goes solar.
Elon Musk promised South Australia that his lithium-battery project in the province would be complete within 100 days or else it would be free. That’s confidence (or the words of a man who can afford to lose $50 million). Puerto Rico is much smaller than South Australia, though the damage there is monstrous. I’m giving SolarCity a month and a half.
Hah! Maybe once they’re living on Mars with Musk, but probably not before then.
Featured Image: Elon Musk (OnInnovation (flickr) [CC License])
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