NRDC partnered once again with Resilient Power Puerto Rico to install another solar power grid in Puerto Rico. This time the installation was in the island of Vieques, which was hit especially hard by Hurricane Maria and where it was most urgently needed.
Vieques’ main electrical connection to the mainland was severed during the storm and the efforts to restore power have been moving slowly. Meanwhile, Vieques residents have been making do with diesel generators and having to live with the impacts to their air quality.
For Vieques and its over 10,000 residents, hardship is nothing new. After all, the island served as a military bombing range for over 70 years, even as residents of Vieques were born and raised just down the road from the bombing targets. And while the live bombing practices stopped in the early 2000s after widespread protests and civil disobedience, the end of the live bombing was just the beginning of a decades long process to remove live ordnance and restore the beautiful lands and beaches.
The site of the project itself is the Fortin Conde de Mirasol, one of the most visited places in Vieques. Built in 1845, this historic site managed by the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture was the last small fort built by the Spaniards in the Americas. The Fortin now houses an art and history museum and Radio Vieques. Radio Vieques, the community station managed by Robert Rabin, is significant because it evolved from one of the principal community groups which fought to end live bombing, the Comite Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques (Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques).
With this initial installation, the Fortin now has a solar and battery system which will not only reduce its ongoing electric costs, it is also capable of keeping the site operating on a limited capacity through the frequent interruptions in electric service. The Fortin also plans to offer shelter and to share its electricity and water with the community in emergency situations. This solar/battery installation is but one of the many distributed renewable energy projects taking place throughout Vieques and Puerto Rico.
This small island is taking big steps to end its dependence on fossil fuels and become more resilient and the rest of Puerto Rico can learn much from Vieques.
Puerto Rico faces a choice. It can either invest in a renewable and distributed electric system that helps the island become more climate resilient. Or it can build a fossil fueled electric system that cements its dependency on imported fossil fuels. Fuels that may not be available when emergencies hit. And perhaps even more painfully, a fossil fueled infrastructure that will become obsolete in a few years as the world moves quickly to transition all energy use to clean energy.
Through project like these, we continue to demonstrate that a renewable and distributed electric system is the right path towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing climate resiliency for Puerto Rico.