Stunning chart reveals how badly Trump has bungled Puerto Rico’s grid rebuild

Time to let Tesla’s Elon Musk do the job?

Rooftop solar keeps the DESI Power's office running in during August’s flood in India. Source: DESI Power
Rooftop solar keeps the DESI Power's office running in during August’s flood in India. Source: DESI Power

Three weeks after hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, FEMA reported Wednesday that only a little more than 10 percent of the island’s 3.5 million U.S. citizens have power. That is down from 16 percent on Tuesday and back to levels from a week ago (see chart below).

The Trump administration is bungling the rebuilding of Puerto Rico’s grid –and trying to do it the dirty, old, expensive and vulnerable way (as we predicted). It’s time to take Tesla CEO Elon Musk up on his offer to rebuild the island’s grid the clean, modern, cheap and resilient way — with clean energy.

This remarkable chart from Reuters on “power restoration after major U.S. hurricanes” shows just how abysmal Trump’s rebuild is going.

That is what bungling looks like.

“Puerto Rico is still mostly an island deleted from the present and pushed back a century or so,” Wired’s Adam Rogers wrote Tuesday in a stunning article, “In Puerto Rico, No power means no telecommunications.” Luis Romero, vice president of the Puerto Rico Telecommunications Alliance, told Reuters, “Every day is a challenge. We’re a bunch of hunter-gatherers.”

Wired calls this “an almost unimaginable outcome” for a U.S. territory this big. But the first year of the Trump administration has made an almost daily practice of redefining what is imaginable.

Yes, fixing an obsolete, dirty, expensive grid on an island with a bankrupt utility is hard — especially if you do it the old way. (For a useful history, see the Huffington Post’s “Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy Doomed It To Dirty Electricity — And Now Darkness.”) But rather than deploying solar and batteries to create resilient microgrids, the Army Corps told NPR it’s bringing in tens of thousands of telephone poles to string new powerlines.

That’s why this rebuild requires some genuine leadership from someone who knows how to get things done, a successful CEO who specializes in building things that work, an anti-Trump.

Fortunately, such a CEO has offered his services: Tesla’s Elon Musk.

After Musk tweeted that his company would be able to help, Puerto Rico’s governor immediately expressed interest — and why not? Unlike Trump, the governor understands that the old way won’t work. “We cannot build the same old grid again,” he told NPR on Wednesday.

Earlier this year, Musk won a contract to help the blackout-riddled South Australians power 30,000 homes with 100 megawatts of Tesla’s Powerpack storage battery system. “Tesla will get the system installed and working 100 days from contract signature or it is free,” Musk promised. 

As I discussed two weeks ago, microgrids built around cheap renewable power and battery storage are now the fastest and cheapest way to restore power — while at the same time building resilience into the grid against the next disaster.

That’s been proven by Florida after Hurricane Irma, Japan after the tsunami that caused the Fukushima meltdown, and India after recent monsoons.

As for cost, the Hawaiian island of Kauai now can produce 90 percent of its midday peak power from only solar and batteries. Tesla has a 20-year contract with the island’s utility to provide power at 13.9 cents per kilowatt-hour (¢/kwh). Compare that to the recent commercial price of electricity on Puerto Rico of 21.4 ¢/kwh, and an industrial price of 18 ¢/kwh.

President Donald Trump’s team is clearly just not up to the job of rebuilding the Puerto Rican grid. Trump himself is more interested in attacking the mayor of San Juan and presenting a ridiculously rosy picture of what’s happening on the island. It’s time to give Musk a chance.

This is not rocket science. Although, if it were, Musk would still be the guy because he also runs SpaceX, a rocket company.
This post has been updated.