Hurricane season has returned, and Puerto Rico isn’t ready. Even a small hurricane could mess up the power grid again, throwing over 3 million American citizens back into the dark.
That’s according to a detailed new report by the The Associated Press, which reminds us that officials believe the island’s precarious power grid is “almost certain to collapse again when the next hurricane hits.”
“It’s a highly fragile and vulnerable system that really could suffer worse damage than it suffered with Maria in the face of another natural catastrophe,” Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello told the AP.
Even more than eight months after Hurricane Maria struck, more than 11,000 people remain without any power on the island.
Energy isn’t just convenient for navigating the dark or heating up a meal. It can be the difference between life and death for many individuals, especially the sick and elderly. Some medicine needs refrigeration, and some illnesses require hooking up to a machine that requires power. A lack of power helped contribute to the massive death toll after the deadly hurricane. While the official death count from Maria sits at 64, a report out this week found it’s likely closer to 5,000.
That would make Hurricane Maria the deadliest storm in modern U.S. history—even worse than Hurricane Katrina, which was pretty fucking bad. What’s most troubling, perhaps, is that these storms aren’t going to stop. They’re just going to get worse as warming waters and a changing climate tips the scales toward more extreme weather.
The boricuas in Puerto Rico need a grid that won’t let them down. Solar microgrids are helping address the island’s energy woes short-term, but a long-term solution will require much more renewable power, along with a total revamp of Puerto Rico’s energy infrastructure.
“The grid is there, but the grid isn’t there. It’s teetering,” said Hector Pesquera, Puerto Rico’s commissioner of public safety, to the AP. “Even if it’s a (Category) 1, it is in such a state that I think we’re going to lose power. I don’t know for how long.”
This isn’t just Hurricane Maria’s fault. It’s the government’s. The Puerto Rican power authority responsible for the energy system has faced years and years of mismanagement, ultimately neglecting the grid’s maintenance needs. After the storm, workers were playing catch up on years worth of work. They did what they could to restore power as quickly as possible, but as blackout after blackout showed, this has been no easy fix.
“We patched things up. We worked with the little material that was available and we recycled material. We took the 1,000 feet of wire that was on the ground and we strung it up in another area,” one anonymous power authority worker said to the AP. “We took the post that had fallen over or broken and we put it up somewhere else. A lot of the work is defective.”
The federal government’s done little to accelerate the effort. If another storm hits, it’ll take more than President Donald Trump’s infamous paper towels to clean up the mess.