Nearly six months after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of residents in the capital San Juan still are without power. Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz says the island needs a blueprint to “rebuild and transform’ its energy infrastructure into a fair and equitable system.
Puerto Rico Mayor Exchange
- 40 mainland mayors will visit Puerto Rico sister cities
- Mainland mayors will help them apply for, and administer FEMA funds
- Mayor Exchange is funded by Open Society Foundations
“Our grid is very weak,” she said. “When we rebuild and transform the grid, we need diversification – we must look at a portfolio of options.
“We will be looking at putting together micro grids, having renewable backups – Puerto Rico gets the sun 328 days in a year – so we could use solar, lots of it. And wind. We ought to be using our ocean.”
Cruz, a Carnegie Mellon University alumnus, spoke at the university’s Energy Week in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Fellow alumnus Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto joined her in the panel moderated by Laurie Weingart, CMU’s Interim Provost.
“We need a blueprint; when you are in a crisis, the day-to-day action takes over so there’s no time for short, medium or long-term planning,” Cruz said, reiterating that the island territory needs a cohesive, energy roadmap that not only restores power to the people but also builds a strong, resilient system that can withstand extreme weather in the future.
“I’d ask CMU to get 7 students, put them in a room and ask them to think about what should be our priorities, energy wise. What should we attack first – the health system, the school system?”
Since the hurricane last fall, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority has worked alongside the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Army Corps of Engineers and workers from mainland US to restore power to more than a million residents.
Although in October, US lawmakers approved a $4.7 billion loan to hurricane-ravaged government in Puerto Rico, money meant to help maintain basic services, the island has yet to see it – a result of disagreement over terms and conditions.
Given that the next hurricane season will begin in 58 days, Cruz noted a lot of work has yet to be done – for example, 28,000 people still have blue tarp for roof, and 500,000 homes need structural repair.
But most important, thousands of people are without power.
“You have no idea what it is to be without energy for months and months,” Cruz said, adding that restoration of power is a priority so that “children can go to school and doctors can use operating rooms without light from their cell phones.”
“Pittsburgh stands ready to partner with Puerto Rico in rebuilding the great territory,” said Peduto. “The Mayor of New Orleans is recruiting mayors from across the US to partner with sister cities in Puerto Rico; if Washington won’t help, we will.”
Peduto was referring to the “Mayor Exchange” created by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu which is backed by funding from the Open Society Foundations. The group includes mainland mayors with experience in disaster recovery who can help their counterparts in Puerto Rico.
In fact, 40 mayors will visit Puerto Rico in the coming weeks from across the nation including Chicago, Denver, Houston, New Haven, Conn., Philadelphia, Miami, New Orleans and Tampa. They’ll help the sister cities in the island apply for and administer FEMA funds, to plan projects to rebuild the damaged infrastructure, to get around the power corridors of Washington.
Puerto Rico also needs industry leaders.
“We want to entice companies to come to Puerto Rico,” Cruz said. “There are billions of dollars that will eventually flow into Puerto Rico.
“We want businesses to come back and flourish.”
For example, it might be cheaper to produce solar panels in Puerto Rico than in China, given the recent tariffs on Chinese imports, she quipped.
Pittsburgh and CMU both have helped Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Maria, raising money for repair and rehabilitation in the island. Cruz acknowledged both.
“I want to thank Pittsburgh because when the lights go off and there’s no water and no medication and you have been neglected and forgotten, it is the heart and human spirit that rise above anyone that tries to put you down,” said Cruz.
“The City of Pittsburgh helped us, [and] above all, Carnegie Mellon rose to the occasion and showed what Carnegie Mellon is all about—putting technology to work.”