Local man sheds light on historic power outage in Puerto Rico

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - Puerto Rico was left powerless on Wednesday, nearly seven months after the powerful September storm, Hurricane Maria, swept the island. An island-wide power outage, the second-largest power outage in world history, took out power for nearly 1.3 million customers of the Puerto Rican power authority.

An excavator clearing debris--trying to solve one problem--caused a larger problem when it damaged a major transmission line on the island.

According to the power authority, the outage could last between a day and a day-and-a-half. The first priorities for power restoration include hospitals, airports and banks.

PJ Wilson, a central Missouri man and co-founder of renewable energy group Renew Missouri, has been on the ground in Puerto Rico since last fall.

"I raised a little bit of money and brought down two suitcases full of solar kits and tried to see if I could be helpful," Wilson said. "Turns out, I could."

Through his non-profit Solar for Puerto Rico, Wilson has been working to introduce sustainable, resilient energy systems and bolster solar energy access on the island. He has traveled throughout rural Puerto Rico, delivering and installing solar battery kits that can support basic energy needs for families. 

The kits cost $60 apiece and can be used to power lights, cell phones, fans, radios, and other devices that use a USB connection. 

Solar for Puerto Rico has given away 500 of those kits, and 500 more kits have been funded and are on their way to the island.

On Wednesday, Wilson spoke with KOMU8 from San Juan, where residents were several hours into the power outage.

He said progress has been slow in Puerto Rico. In San Juan, things are getting better, but in the remote areas of the island, the damage is still very apparent.

"If this was any other place in the country, then the resources would have been there to clean things up, and life would be back to normal," Wilson said, referring to complaints US officials have not prioritized the island territory.

Wilson said power shortages weren't uncommon on the island, even before the hurricane. 

"Puerto Rico has the second highest electric rates in the country, behind Hawaii, and at least in Hawaii, their grid works," Wilson said. 

Wilson said he's hoping Puerto Rico will use the rebuilding and recovery efforts from the hurricane to begin developing more sustainable, resilient energy solutions.

To find out more about Solar for Puerto Rico, visit solarforpuertorico.org. Wilson said donations to the non-profit will go toward providing solar kits to families in Puerto Rico. The non-profit will also offer a summer volunteer program in Puerto Rico, open to college students interested in global service.