Rosalina Marrero spends the best part of each day ironing and watching telenovelas at her modest bungalow in Puerto Rico’s coastal Guayama province. When it gets too hot or her asthma plays up due to the toxic coal ash from the nearby power plant, the 78-year-old widow rests on an adjustable hospital bed, clicks on the fan and thanks God for the solar panels on her roof.
Earlier this year, Marrero was among two dozen residents in a low-income, predominantly Black neighbourhood blighted by coal pollution, fitted with a rooftop solar and storage system. Campaigners say systems like hers should be rolled out more widely to tackle the island’s energy crisis and the global climate emergency – both of which are exacerbating racialized health inequalities.
The situation with the electricity is dire.
Rooftop solar could supply all of Puerto Rico’s energy needs
Puerto Ricans pay more than twice as much for electricity as Americans on the mainland yet earlier this month power cuts to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses caused widespread anger and misery. Traffic lights failed, hospitals used expensive diesel generators to keep dialysis machines and ventilators running, and fires broke out due to fluctuations in voltage.
Despite the abysmal service, electricity rates have increased four times so far this year.
In hot and humid Guayama, the lights went out for several hours almost every day for those unable to afford a backup generator. But thanks to the rooftop solar system, Marrero could stay cool and watch TV without worrying about the food going off in the fridge.
“It’s the best thing that’s happened to me. I thank God because my poor neighbours are suffering but I’ve always got electricity. I feel more secure, if we get another big hurricane like Maria, I won’t suffer so much,” said Marrero.
Marrero is lucky because while Puerto Rico gets enough sunlight to meet its residential electricity needs at least four times over, less than 3% of the island’s energy comes from renewable sources. The rest is generated from imported fossil fuels: 49% from petroleum and 29% from natural gas, while coal accounts for 19%.
Dump trucks leave the AES coal-burning power plant, known as La Carbonera by locals, in Guayama.</…….