Robert Sanchez wrote in the Miami Herald that Puerto Rican pop star Bad Bunny “deserves a new nickname: Energizer Bunny.” What’s he talking about? His idea is that Bad Bunny is a harbinger of a coming energy disaster affecting not only Puerto Rico but the entire nation.
Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, better known as Bad Bunny, served as both host and musical guest on Saturday Night Live recently. This event reminded Sanchez of the hit song “El Apagon” (“The Blackout”), a reminder of the 181 days much of Puerto Rico was without power after Hurricane Maria hit the Island in 2017.
Sanchez says, “Power grid failures aren’t limited to Puerto Rico…In other words, it’s a nationwide problem. So, as the Associated Press reported last week, the Biden administration is planning to spend $3.5 billion for 58 projects ‘to strengthen electric grid resilience as extreme weather events such as the deadly Maui and California wildfires continue to strain the nation’s aging transmission systems’.”
Extreme weather events, from hurricanes to wildfires to life-threatening heat and record-breaking winter storms, have become commonplace. The electrical grid is not up to the challenge.
Are batteries the solution?
The good news coming out of Puerto Rico tends to focus on solar power, and typically on decentralized micro-grids, rooftop solar arrays, and community efforts. Wind power and hydroelectric power are also practical options for Puerto Rico. Rep. Bruce Westerman, chair of the Natural Resources committee which oversees Puerto Rico and the other territories, is thinking about hydrogen power, a cleaner, greener energy source that can power trains, buses, and factories.
In addition, on November 2, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that several solar companies and nonprofits had been selected to install rooftop solar and battery storage systems for vulnerable households in Puerto Rico through the Puerto Rico Energy Resilience Fund (PR-ERF). According to the announcement, the first tranche of PR-ERF funding, up to $440 million, will help lower energy bills for 30,000–40,000 single-family households in Puerto Rico, improve household energy resilience, and keep the lights on during extreme weather events.
In his earlier article, Sanchez expressed concern about “growing dependence on the rechargeable batteries that power everything from our phones and laptops to the plug-in electric vehicles.” These batteries require electricity to recharge, Sanchez pointed out. “[I]t’s wishful thinking to believe that relying on a deficient power grid and lithium-ion batteries can maintain our quality of life, protect our national security and stave off global warming.”
These batteries rely on rare earth elements like lithium. Sanchez expresses concern that the supply chain for rare earth metals is currently in China or in nations where China has increasing influence. Many of these nations, as he points out, are known for child labor. Miners in these nations are exposed to radiation, subject to rare earth pneumoconiosis, and work under in humane conditions. The mining process also involves open pits of toxic waste which contaminates water and soil.
“Did Bad Bunny’s song and video inadvertently make him a Paul Revere alerting Americans?” Sanchez asks. His focus is on electric vehicles, which he claims are being falsely presented as a solution to climate change, but his point applies to Puerto Rico’s ongoing energy challenges. The problems the Island is facing with its outdated, unreliable grid and extreme weather events are not problems exclusive to Puerto Rico. They may just be showing up sooner in Puerto Rico, giving the rest of the nation an opportunity to work on these issues ahead of the crisis. The United States as a whole cannot ignore these problems and leave their solution up to Puerto Rico. A broader solution is needed — one that will support Puerto Rico now and the rest of the nation as the same problems become visible elsewhere.
Image courtesy of Toglenn via Wikimedia Commons