“Puerto Rico has really become the center of my universe right now,” said Martinez. “The people are incredible — they’re industrious [but] they’ve got a lot to work through.”
Describing her trip to Puerto Rico in January, she spoke of the geographic complexity of the Island and the regulations limiting the work. This affects the plans and progress of the efforts to return power to the territory. Transmission towers and electrical poles have to be carried by helicopter, for example, in the most rural areas.
“Why is it taking so long? Because they’ve got these bizarre issues that are popping up,” says Martinez. One is the protection of a horned toad.
The Puerto Rican Crested Toad, Peltophryne lemur, is the only toad native to the Island, and it is listed a critically endangered. The Nashville Zoo is working with Puerto Rico to reintroduce the toad to the Island. Martinez found that protection of the toad’s habitat interfered with access to the areas needing repair.
Another issue is the Stafford Act. This law, which has been changed for Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Maria, requires disaster repairs to bring infrastructure up to the point at which it was before the disaster. In the case of Puerto Rico, both power and water systems had deteriorated to extremely poor conditions before the hurricanes hit.
“The laws had to be changed to allow for the betterment of the grid,” Martinez pointed out. “Three billion dollars were spent on simply getting people’s lights turned on.”
The hosts of the program remarked on the fact that many observers think the slow progress in Puerto Rico is the result of “sheer failure or forgotten people,” but observed that the problems in Puerto Rico actually appear to be more complex. With respect to the recent blackouts, Martinez explained that a small issue that would usually affect a few square miles shut down power across the Island.
Martinez had good news to report, however.
“They’re going to completely reconstruct the grid,” she said, “and probably make it one of the best grids in the entire world.”
Martinez expressed excitement at the prospect of the innovative energy solutions Puerto Rico will be able to use, given adequate funding. She emphasized the positive effects a robust power grid could have on Puerto Rico’s economy.
“People don’t really get how important energy is for industry,” said Martinez. “Dirty” electricity can destroy industrial machinery, and unreliable power leads to costly downtime. Without stable electricity, Martinez pointed out, Puerto Rico can’t compete for industry with the States.
“Energy becomes the background for everything,” she concluded.