It takes a hurricane... Puerto Rico’s yearning for energy democracy
On the evening of 22 January 2018, the Governor of Puerto Rico announced the complete privatisation of the island’s power utility. The public statement came four months after hurricanes Irma and Maria, which devastated the archipelago leaving thousands of people homeless or dead and over 40 percent of the population without access to electricity and running water. Puerto Rico’s energy system was crumbling long before the tropical weather systems of September 2017 hit the archipelago. The hurricanes only laid bare the unsustainable conditions of the extremely expensive and fossil fuel-generated electrical power regime.
This report provides an in-depth analysis of the current situation of the power sector, the proposals for energy democracy, and the struggles against disaster capitalism and the shock doctrine in the Caribbean. After assessing the immediate impact of the hurricanes, it describes the specific colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, and discusses how the island’s political status has shaped economic development and modernisation.
It then examines Puerto Rico’s energy regime prior to the natural disasters by reviewing the public utility’s history, highlighting the impact of the debt crisis on the energy sector. This entails considering neoliberal discourse and practices, and juxtaposing them to alternative arguments and civil society’s concern for finding renewable energy solutions.
The report then delves into the responses presented just prior to and quickly after the tropical weather systems ravaged the country: community, NGO, and humanitarian aid responses, state postures, and corporate meddling into the crisis. A final section of the paper asserts viable alternatives and future scenarios for Puerto Rico’s power sector and related public services.