Tag Archives: maria

FEMA is ending its food and water aid in Puerto Rico.

On Monday, newly minted Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multi-state carbon trading program that aims to reduce greenhouse gases from the power sector.

New Jersey’s former governor (and bona fide bully) Chris Christie had pulled the state out in 2011, saying the initiative increased the tax burden for utilities and failed to adequately reduce greenhouse gases. Murphy said that Christie’s decision to withdraw had cost the state $279 million in revenue.

The state Department of Environmental Protection and the Board of Public Utilities will begin drawing up a game plan to re-enter the pact.

Nine eastern states already participate in RGGI: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Now, New Jersey is joining the fray, and Virginia may soon follow.

“With this executive order, New Jersey takes the first step toward restoring our place as a leader in the green economy,” Murphy said. Jersey shore knows what it’s doing!

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FEMA is ending its food and water aid in Puerto Rico.

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The Republican tax bill could lead to major job losses across the U.S. renewable industry.

Called “Build Back Better,” the plan focuses on providing immediate relief while also making the island’s energy infrastructure more resilient to future storms. That means fortifying the electric transmission system and bulking up defenses at power plants and substations.

The plan also envisions a Puerto Rico dotted with solar farms and wind turbines, linked by more than 150 microgrids. Of the 470,000 homes destroyed in Maria’s high winds, the report points out many could be built back with rooftop solar. New battery storage systems would allow hospitals, fire stations, water treatment plants, airports, and other critical facilities to keep the lights on without power from the grid.

Overall, $1.5 billion of the plan’s budget would go to these distributed renewable energy resources.

The plan was concocted by a bunch of industry and government groups working together, including the federal Department of Energy, Puerto Rico’s utility, several other state power authorities, and private utility companies like ConEd. If enacted, it would take the next 10 years to complete.

With a $94 billion Puerto Rico relief plan in Congress right now, it’s actually possible that $17 billion of that could go to building a renewable, resilient energy system for the future. It’d be a steal.

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The Republican tax bill could lead to major job losses across the U.S. renewable industry.

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Coastal cities are in serious jeopardy, new sea-level rise study shows.

Called “Build Back Better,” the plan focuses on providing immediate relief while also making the island’s energy infrastructure more resilient to future storms. That means fortifying the electric transmission system and bulking up defenses at power plants and substations.

The plan also envisions a Puerto Rico dotted with solar farms and wind turbines, linked by more than 150 microgrids. Of the 470,000 homes destroyed in Maria’s high winds, the report points out many could be built back with rooftop solar. New battery storage systems would allow hospitals, fire stations, water treatment plants, airports, and other critical facilities to keep the lights on without power from the grid.

Overall, $1.5 billion of the plan’s budget would go to these distributed renewable energy resources.

The plan was concocted by a bunch of industry and government groups working together, including the federal Department of Energy, Puerto Rico’s utility, several other state power authorities, and private utility companies like ConEd. If enacted, it would take the next 10 years to complete.

With a $94 billion Puerto Rico relief plan in Congress right now, it’s actually possible that $17 billion of that could go to building a renewable, resilient energy system for the future. It’d be a steal.

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Coastal cities are in serious jeopardy, new sea-level rise study shows.

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An erupting Indonesian volcano may alter global climate.

After Puerto Rico canceled its controversial contract with the small Montana company last month, Whitefish had agreed to continue repairs on the island’s devastated grid until Nov. 30. But on Monday, the company paused work 10 days early. According to Whitefish, PREPA, Puerto Rico’s government-owned utility, owed it $83 million.

“It may have not been the best business decision coming to work for a bankrupt island,” Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski told CNN. PREPA was $9 billion in debt before Hurricane Maria.

Whitefish claims that some of its contractors and subcontractors are going unpaid due to PREPA’s delayed payments. Meanwhile, PREPA says it paused payment to Whitefish on Nov. 16 at the request of a subcontractor claiming Whitefish owed it money. Sounds like a chicken-and-egg situation?

Congress and the FBI are currently investigating the $300 million Whitefish contract, which drew scrutiny for its anti-auditing measure and unusually high fees, among other things. A congressional hearing last week found that PREPA ignored lawyers’ advice in signing the deal in the first place. Soon after the hearing, PREPA’s CEO resigned.

Puerto Rico could use an end to the Whitefish drama — and the power outages. Two months after Hurricane Maria, less than half of the power has been restored and entire communities are still living without electricity.

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An erupting Indonesian volcano may alter global climate.

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Another side effect of Puerto Rico’s power problems: Scientists struggle to do their work.

Nearly two months after Hurricane Maria, public health researchers in Puerto Rico are limited by the same lack of power, clean water, and infrastructure they are there to study.

Puerto Rico–born José Cordero is one such scientist. In the journal Nature, he describes leading a team through the devastated landscape to collect data on how drinking water contamination affects pregnant women. The scientists have to hurry to finish their work everyday, before night falls across the largely powerless island. Limited telephone access makes it difficult to get in touch with subjects.

Cordero’s project started six years ago to focus on water pollution and pre-term births, but this year’s hurricane has changed both the focus and the level of difficulty of the work. Other researchers have been hampered by hospitals that can’t administer routine tests and hurricane-damaged equipment, making it difficult to collect data on how air and water pollution are affecting health.

Still, Cordero’s team has managed to contact several hundred woman and collect samples of groundwater and tap water from homes near flooded Superfund sites. As he told Nature: “The kind of work we’re doing … has to be done now, because a few years from now, it’s too late.”

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Another side effect of Puerto Rico’s power problems: Scientists struggle to do their work.

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EPA says the water at a Puerto Rico Superfund site is safe. This congressman isn’t convinced.

At a hearing on the federal response to the 2017 hurricane season, New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler questioned the EPA’s decision to declare water drawn from the Dorado Superfund site OK to drink.

In 2016, the agency found that water at Dorado contained solvents that pose serious health risks, including liver damage and cancer. Yet after CNN reported that Hurricane Maria survivors were pulling water from the site’s two wells, the EPA conducted an analysis and found the water fit for consumption.

When Nadler asked Pete Lopez, administrator for Region 2 of the EPA, why his agency changed its position, Lopez responded that the chemicals are present in the water, but are within drinking water tolerance levels.

The EPA’s standards for drinking water are typically higher than international norms, John Mutter, a Columbia University professor and international disaster relief expert, told Grist. Nonetheless, he believes it is unusual for the EPA to declare water safe to drink just one year after naming it a Superfund site.

At the hearing, Nadler said the situation was “eerily similar” to the EPA’s response after 9/11 in New York. One week after the attacks, the agency said the air in the neighborhood was safe to breathe. But since then, 602 people who initially survived the attack have died from cancer or aerodigestive issues like asthma, and thousands more have become sick.

“The [EPA’s] history of making mistakes makes you feel like perhaps they should be challenged,” says Mutter, citing the water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan.

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EPA says the water at a Puerto Rico Superfund site is safe. This congressman isn’t convinced.

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We will never know how many people died in Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Maria.

Sure, the Arizona facility has been a significant source of funding for schools, infrastructure, and other public services. But the Sierra Club estimates that it has contributed to 16 premature deaths, 25 heart attacks, 300 asthma attacks, and 15 asthma emergency room visits each year. That adds up to total annual health costs of more than $127 million.

Beyond that, after natural gas prices fell, the coal-fired plant became unprofitable. So the owners of the Navajo Generating Station decided to close the plant by year’s end. Still, the Interior Department, which owns a 24-percent stake in the facility, has worked to extend a lease agreement through 2019 as it searches for another entity to operate it.

The closure won’t just shutter the plant, but also likely will close a nearby mine. Peabody, the largest coal-mining company in the U.S., began operating on Navajo land in the 1960s. Its Kayenta Mine’s biggest customer is the Navajo Generating Station.

But the mine’s demise might not be a bad thing, as it has depleted billions of gallons of water in the Navajo Aquifer and has led to water shortages for residents of the Navajo Indian Reservation.

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We will never know how many people died in Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Maria.

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Tesla’s solar vision gets its first big test in Puerto Rico

It was a transaction concocted on Twitter — and in a few short weeks, declared official: Tesla is helping to bring power back to Puerto Rico.

Early this month, Elon Musk touted his company’s work building solar-plus-battery systems for small islands like Kauai in Hawaii and Ta’u in American Samoa. He suggested a similar setup could work for Puerto Rico. The U.S. territory’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, tweeted that he was game. Musk replied quickly: “Hopefully, Tesla can be helpful.”

After earlier reports of the company’s batteries arriving at San Juan’s port, Tesla announced today that it has started constructing its first microgrid installation, laying out a solar field and setting up its refrigerator-sized Powerpack batteries to supply electricity to a children’s hospital in the Puerto Rican capital.

More than a month after Hurricane Maria destroyed swaths of the island’s electrical grid, 85 percent of Puerto Rico is still without power. Total grid repair costs are estimated at $5 billion — an especially steep price for a public utility already $9 billion in debt. The lack of power is especially dire for hospitals, where unreliable electricity may spoil medicines that require refrigeration and complicate crucial medical procedures. The results could be deadlier than the storm itself, but solar power could help head off further disaster.

The idea that solar could serve as a viable source of emergency relief is new. Sure, renewable technologies have proliferated and become more affordable, but there’s a tried-and-true response to natural disasters: Fall back on diesel generators and fuel until utilities have a chance to restore grid power.

This has largely been the pattern in post-Maria Puerto Rico. One hardware store told the New York Times it was selling up to 300 generators a day. FEMA claims it has installed more generators in Puerto Rico than in hurricane-ravaged parts of Texas and Florida combined. But generators are expensive, inefficient, and prone to failure. And burning diesel in homes comes with health risks like carbon monoxide poisoning.

By contrast, a microgrid setup — that is, a combination of solar panels, battery storage, and electrical inverters that doesn’t require input from the main power grid — can potentially take immediate effect, providing reliable electricity with no pollution. And, once installed, these self-contained systems could help eliminate the rolling blackouts that were a problem for Puerto Rico’s major utility even before Maria.

Tesla is only the most prominent company to bypass the conventional avenues of rebuilding to install renewable power and batteries. Other companies and nonprofits have been marshalling resources to fill the void left by federal relief efforts. German renewable energy outfit Sonnen has pledged to build microgrids in priority areas, working with local partner Pura Energia to install donated batteries to power first aid and community centers. Another group, Resilient Power Puerto Rico, is distributing solar generators to remote communities, where they can serve as hubs for immediate necessities like charging phones and filtering water.

Marco Krapels, founder of the nonprofit Empowered by Light, traveled with a solar installation team to Puerto Rico in early October to deploy solar-plus-battery microgrid systems on fire stations. The nonprofit partnered with local firefighters to quickly cut through red tape paralyzing much of the disaster response.

“It takes only 48 hours to deploy once it arrives in the San Juan airport,” Krapels says of the standalone systems. “The firefighters, who have 18 flat-bed trucks, pulled up to our cargo plane; three hours later we were installing the system; and 48 hours later we’re done.”

The microgrid systems provide electricity and communications to the fire stations, as well as water purification technology that can provide up to 250 gallons of drinkable water a day — crucial on an island where 1 in 3 residents currently lack access to clean water.

There are 95 fire stations in Puerto Rico, Krapels says, and he estimates it will take just under $5 million for Empowered by Light to outfit them all. So far, the nonprofit has transformed two stations, one in the low-income Obrero neighborhood of San Juan and one in the town of Utuado, in the remote center of the island. After both installations, Krapels says, the local fire station was the only building with the lights on after dark — outlying and underserved communities are always among the last to receive emergency relief.

“There are parts of the island that are so destroyed that there is no grid,” Krapels says. “There is nothing to fix: The transformers are all burnt, the poles are gone, the wires are laying on the street.”

As much as 80 percent of the island’s high-power transmission lines were destroyed, Bloomberg reported, and even optimistic estimates of repair work have a majority of the island off the grid until late this year.

In the coming months, as communities and companies work to rebuild that infrastructure, there will be an opportunity to make the island more resilient. Companies like Tesla offer one path to less vulnerable electricity infrastructure. Meanwhile, organizations like Resilient Power Puerto Rico emphasize the importance of economic resilience, too. The New York-based founders want to put power in the hands of the island’s residents, modeled after similar efforts in the Rockaways post-Sandy. The nonprofit has ambitions to establish 100 solar towns, a robust green economy, and more electrical independence for all.

“If we’re going to rethink energy in Puerto Rico, let’s really empower people to deploy their own distributed renewable generation and storage,” Krapels says. “The sun is there every day, and it’s going to shine for the next 5 billion years.”

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Tesla’s solar vision gets its first big test in Puerto Rico

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Puerto Rico could see ‘significant epidemics,’ health experts warn.

A new report from the International Energy Agency surveys the growth of hydropower, wind, and other forms of renewable energy and finds they’re catching up to coal (still the world’s largest source of electricity). At this rate, renewables are expected to provide 30 percent of power generation by 2022.

Hydropower provides the most renewable energy, but the growth is in solar. One wrinkle, though: It can be misleading to focus on the number of panels installed, because solar only works when, ya know, the sun shines. So keep in mind that, while the graph below shows how much new “capacity” we are adding to the system, only a portion of that gets turned into electricity.

IEA

Denmark is leading the way on clean energy installations (shocking, I know). The Scandinavian country currently generates 44 percent of its electricity from wind and solar, and by 2022 it’s on track to get 77 percent from the same sources. (VRE, used in the graf below, stands for “variable renewable energy” — the term of art for wind and solar plants that we can’t switch on as needed.)

IEA

If renewables keep growing as forecast, we’re going to need bigger electrical grids (to move electricity from places where it’s generated in excess to places where it’s needed) and better ways to store energy.

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Puerto Rico could see ‘significant epidemics,’ health experts warn.

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Devastated Dominica aims to climate-proof the country.

President Trump visited the U.S. territory on Tuesday, two weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. Half of Puerto Ricans lack clean water and 95 percent are without power.

So, how did the president approach the unfolding humanitarian crisis? Let’s hear it:

Trump said that Hurricane Maria wasn’t a “real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina at a briefing with local officials. He compared the certified death count of the disasters as evidence: “You can be very proud, only 16 instead of thousands in Katrina.” To point out a few problems: The official death toll in Puerto Rico is underreported, it will likely continue to climb, and maybe we shouldn’t frame death tolls as something to be proud of.

“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget out of whack,” Trump said at the briefing — apparently joking about the disaster aid pending in Congress.

“Have a good time,” Trump told a family after they showed him their storm-damaged home.

The president went mostly off-script from the White House’s Puerto Rico media coverage plan, but he did take the opportunity to tout the success of the relief effort. “Everybody watching can really be very proud of what’s been taking place in Puerto Rico,” he said.

We can only hope he’s not talking about his own performance.

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Devastated Dominica aims to climate-proof the country.

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