Five Years after Hurricane Maria, Energy Justice in Puerto Rico Gains Ground

Jonathan Castillo Palanco and Ruth Santiago

Non-Profit Quarterly

Sep 8, 2022

Five years ago, Hurricane María devastated Puerto Rico, resulting in the longest blackout in the history of the archipelago and the United States; in some regions, blackouts continued 11 months after the storm. Puerto Rico’s centralized, fossil-fuel dependent, long neglected energy system was no match for the hurricane.

An estimated 3,000 lives were lost during the storm and its aftermath. Many of these deaths have been attributed to the loss of electricity needed to power medical equipment and store medication and food. Communities living in poverty were the last to have power restored and had the highest mortality rates.

Despite the correlation between Puerto Rico’s power grid and the health and safety of the archipelago’s residents, the Puerto Rican government has largely ignored calls made by Puerto Rican civil society to build a more resilient electrical system that relies principally on distributed renewable energy—i.e., renewable energy generated near points of use, such as at homes and businesses. To this day, frequent blackouts threaten residents’ survival, with the most marginalized communities bearing the brunt of Puerto Rico’s energy crisis.

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