Solar panels save Puerto Rican firm

Puerto Rico’s grid is damaged, but a nursery is back in business thanks to solar power.

PUERTO RICO (REUTERS) - While Puerto Rico is still in a near blackout from Hurricane Maria, one flower grower is already back in business thanks to his investment in solar energy.

Hector Santiago installed 244 solar panels six years ago.

Although the island’s electricity grid was shredded by the category five storm, most of his power source remained intact.

"I’m at a flower nursery in the central puerto rican town of Barranquitas that’s really a couple steps ahed of the rest of the country because the owner of this plantation, six year ago, decided to invest US$300,000 (S$409,425) installing solar panels. So when Hurricane Maria slammed into the island on September 20, the energy flow here, kept going while the rest of the country is standing in line waiting for fuel to run electrical generators,” said Reuters correspondent, Hugh Bronstein.

Santiago says his initial investment did raise eyebrows from locals:

“Ya, they told me ‘you’re crazy. Why are you spending so much money doing that?’” said Santiago.

However, when the storm hit, he was able to regroup - with enough solar power to keep two water pumps running despite considerable damage to much of the nursery.

The experience of people like Santiago - who sells his decorative plants throughout the Caribbean to places like Costco - already leading to more of an interest in alternative energy.

One local solar installer estimating the storm could drive up his business 20 per cent a year.