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How Puerto Ricans Are Using Environmental Action to Build Community Power

Updated: May 7

If you go up a mountainous road from the southern port city of Ponce, you'll pass houses and shops until you eventually reach Adjuntas, a city known for its significance to the rural, inland community of Puerto Rico. In Adjuntas, if you go through the downtown, you'll find a mosque, bakeries, churches, and cafes. What you'll also find is a small house, painted bright colors, bustling with activity. If you go in, you might find the smell of coffee overpowering–I personally love it. In the back of the house, you'll find a butterfly garden and a radio transmitter. 


The house belongs to an environmental advocacy group: Casa Pueblo. They’ve been advocating both in communities and at the governmental level for the protection of natural resources and for community control of public utilities such as electricity. They have worked hard for decades to make communities more equitable–especially by helping constituents create independent electricity via solar panels. 



Their work came to a head in 2017 when Hurricane Maria struck. As the energy grid was knocked offline, their independent, community-run solar network was the only source of power for thousands in the rural, mountainous region of the island that they call home. They were able to use their energy to broadcast Radio Casa Pueblo, informing and organizing the community in the four months it took for the energy grid to be operational again (Massol-Deyá). Since then, they’ve continued their advocacy–even in the face of the privatization of the already archaic Puerto Rican electrical grid (“In Puerto Rico, a Small Town Takes Climate Action Into Its Own Hands”).  It goes beyond just energy: they're a symbol of culture in an area where keeping tradition alive is increasingly becoming more difficult. Not only are they helping communities stay independent, but they're also helping foster said communities: they're not only creating electrical equipment, but also sponsoring music festivals and running radio stations. They show that environmental power is community power, and vice versa.


A large part of Puerto Rico's problem with energy has to do with their position as a territory of America. While Puerto Rico is democratically governed, the people have had little independence in the past five hundred years. Governed by people who don't understand the island's complexities, even the energy has fallen into disrepair. While Puerto Rico does have democratic functions of government, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) Act of 2016, meant to restructure Puerto Rico's public debt, deepened an already vast wound. It established The Financial Oversight and Management Board of Puerto Rico, colloquially known as La Junta, which has authority over the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico's budget. Budget for social services, including education, have been slashed. The energy grid has become controlled by a private company that has been accused of badly mismanaging the utility after routine blackouts (Mayfield). Many Puerto Ricans consider it a failed experiment (“PROMESA Has Failed”) that harkens back to colonialism. The solution, to many, is doubling down on community–bringing the power back to the people.


Casa Pueblo is leading a new movement to rebuild Puerto Rico’s energy grid with 50% renewable energy by 2027, ten years after Maria. They’re collaborating with the Silicon Valley giant Google in their effort, using Google technology to understand the feasibility of solar equipment in different areas of Puerto Rico’s interior (“Casa Pueblo Collaborates with Google's Project Sunroof”). The collaboration shows that, if anything, environmental liberation across the world is linked. The work being done in Puerto Rico would not be possible without technology developed in the Bay Area—a situation that could be replicated in any number of two locations across the globe. Environmental liberation is a collaborative process—and one that requires the collaboration of communities across the globe.


 

Sources:


“Casa Pueblo Collaborates with Google's Project Sunroof.” Casa Pueblo, 1 February 2019, https://casapueblo.org/casa-pueblo-collaborates-with-googles-project-sunroof/. Accessed 23 April 2024.


“In Puerto Rico, a Small Town Takes Climate Action Into Its Own Hands.” Time, 20 March 2023, https://time.com/6264631/puerto-rico-adjuntas-solar-microgrid/. Accessed 23 April 2024.


Massol-Deyá, Arturo. “Radio Casa Pueblo and the importance of the energy generation model at the point of consumption.” Casa Pueblo FCC 2022, Federal Communications Commission, 17 November 2022, https://www.fcc.gov/sites/default/files/field-hearing-11172022-statement-arturo-massol-deya.pdf. Accessed 23 April 2024.


Mayfield, Collin. “A Private Company Provokes an Energy Crisis in Puerto Rico.” New Lines Magazine, 3 August 2023, https://newlinesmag.com/reportage/a-private-company-provokes-an-energy-crisis-in-puerto-rico/. Accessed 30 April 2024.


“PROMESA Has Failed.” Action Center on Race and the Economy, 15 September 2021, https://acrecampaigns.org/research_post/promesa-has-failed/. Accessed 30 April 2024.




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