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A Solar Wave Spurred by the Storm

From left: Luis Martinez, Radio Vieques station manager and community leader Robert Rabin, and Resilient Power Puerto Rico cofounder Cristina Roig on the rooftop of Fortín Conde de Mirasol (Luis Martinez/NRDC)

This week kicks off Latino & Hispanic Heritage Month, but September also marks a life-changing moment for the people of Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria, one of the most devastating Atlantic storms on record, hit five years ago this month.

The progress the archipelago has made is thanks to its people. Among them is NRDC’s Luis Martinez, an environmental lawyer who’s spent the years since the hurricane helping to build the foundation of Puerto Rico’s clean energy future.

What Maria did in Puerto Rico

When Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico in 2017, it knocked out the island’s electrical system and already inadequate water infrastructure, immediately leaving 3.4 million people in the dark. What followed was a humanitarian crisis that killed more than 3,000 and laid bare the existing inequities.

Prior to this hurricane, Luis, a native Puerto Rican, had worked on the island’s environmental efforts, specifically the cleanup of hazardous military waste in Vieques. By the time Maria hit, he was a director at NRDC shaping state-level climate and transportation policies out of North Carolina, but he was ready to help his childhood home again.

Why solar was part of the solution

The situation in Puerto Rico was dire in every way. Hospitals were without power. Cell service was out. And older adults on respirators or anyone who needed to refrigerate medication suddenly became high-risk. After talking to people on the ground, Luis knew that tackling the lack of electricity and clean water was paramount.

He quickly worked with local organizations to donate solar lights for home use. That led to the idea of solarizing community centers, which naturally served as hubs for food, power, water, and information. Luis brought NRDC together with the nonprofit Resilient Power Puerto Rico, and the team got to building. 09-13-22

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