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Environment

After Maria, This Puerto Rican Farmer Still Has Electricity Because He Invested in Solar Panels

Héctor Alejandro Santiago via AP

As the people of Puerto Rico continue to struggle with widespread blackouts, one horticulturist has all the electricity he needs to keep his flower-growing operation going strong, according to Business Insider.

That’s because several years ago, Hector Santiago invested $300,000 in 244 solar panels, giving him independence from the power grid.

When Hurricane Maria hit, most of the island’s energy infrastructure was damaged or destroyed and the majority of the population could be without power for four to six months.

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Santiago’s solar panels, however, were hardly disrupted.

He owns a 40-acre plant and flower nursery in the town of Barranquitas, and he uses the energy from the solar panels to draw water from two local wells and to power hundreds of light bulbs.

The nursery itself was badly damaged in the hurricane, but because of the solar panels, Santiago’s crew was able to begin clean-up and repairs and get back to business soon after the storm left, according to the report.

They’re once again cultivating plants and flowers that will be sold at outlets on the island like Costco.

"Everybody told me I was crazy because it was so expensive. Now I have power and they don't," Santiago told Business Insider.

Read More: In the Wake of Hurricane Maria, Here’s How to Help People in Puerto Rico

Santiago’s outcome, amid the island’s broader devastation, speaks to a growing demand for flexible, renewable models of energy across the world.

Traditional energy grids call for capital-intensive infrastructure — miles and miles of poles and wires connecting homes and businesses to power plants that often run on fossil fuels.

Solar power, in particular, offers an alternative to this model.

By decentralizing and simplifying energy production, solar power can be more resilient in the face of natural disasters — its infrastructure is minimally exposed and it can continually cull energy from the sun.

Since the storm, Puerto Rico’s lack of electricity has put people at risk — hospitals are without adequate power, water is unable to be delivered, communication has been largely disrupted — and the government has been thinking about ways to modernize its energy system.

Read More: Puerto Rico’s Crisis Is Not About ‘Broken Infrastructure.’ It’s About Poverty

The island’s electricity provider, PREPA, has faced financial difficulties for years, which has hampered its ability to invest in sustainable energy and technology, according to Earther, and the storm exposed its many flaws.

Now, the destruction of Maria may present an opportunity to start over.   

The futurist Elon Musk, for instance, has already offered to rebuild the island’s power grid with batteries and solar power.

But the government may also look to citizens like Santiago for inspiration. After all, giving the people control of electricity production could make the island much better prepared to face the next storm.

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, which call for robust investments in renewable energy. You can take action on this issue here.