Among the many projects and initiatives spearheaded by the community organization Casa Pueblo, located in the town of Adjuntas, those involving solar power have become a priority since Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September. The topic of renewable energy becomes more and more relevant as the months pass and many of Puerto Rico's rural communities, including most of Adjuntas and its neighboring towns, remain without power.
As part of their response to the humanitarian crisis that followed the storm, Casa Pueblo distributed solar-powered lamps to 80% of homes in Adjuntas, as well as in Jayuya, Utuado, Yauco, Castañer, Lares, Loíza, Vieques, Aibonito, Humacao, and other municipalities. The organization's home base, which has been operating with solar power since 1999, became an oasis for people in the southern and central regions of the island to charge their phones and communicate with their loved ones outside of the island.
Currently, Casa Pueblo is focusing on establishing solar communities. The organization installed solar panels with energy storage and battery systems in 10 homes in Adjuntas, giving priority to those with residents requiring dialysis or respiratory therapy. They also installed solar power systems at a nursing home, the Head Start center, and the municipal shelter.
They are now in the process of selecting the first 16 houses that will receive solar powered refrigerators. This initiative is being funded by the FORWARD Puerto Rico Fund and will eventually impact 25 to 30 residences in Adjuntas. The expectation is that these will become energy oasis in their communities, allowing others to also store food and medicines that require refrigeration.
The hurricane also sped up the implementation of two energy-based projects that were already in the works. In January, Radio Casa Pueblo became the first radio station in the Caribbean to operate 100% with renewable energy. And in February, Casa Pueblo will inaugurate a solar-powered cinema.
Casa Pueblo's long-term goal is to inspire a transition to a renewable energy model across the island, which is why they created the campaign #iLuminarPRconSOL.
"From an educational point of view we will show the community and the island that there are other ways to handle (the energy crisis) ," explained associated director of Casa Pueblo, Arturo Massol Deya.
"Casa Pueblo has been pushing for a long time for a transition to an energetic model that is self-sufficient, where we can leave behind fossil fuels and move towards clean energy sources. This isn't new, it's an agenda that has the conservation of natural and environmental resources in mind. Hurricane Maria emphasized the need to provoke this transition. And since we don't have control or much faith in this happening from the top down, it falls on us to create this change from the bottom up," he added.