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Solar-powered barber shop is the 1st of its kind in Puerto Rico

By Manuel Crespo Feliciano, Accuweather en Español staff writer
April 18, 2019, 11:18:59 AM EDT

ADJUNTAS, PUERTO RICO -- Wilfredo Pérez, 73, moves his hands almost instinctively through the hair of the client that sits before him in the old barbershop chair. Silver garments adorn the experienced barber hands, the traditional Panama hat covers his head and a tiny, gray mustache borders his lips: typical "Don Juan" style in the island.

Wilfredo Pérez

Wilfredo Perez has been a barber for 40 years. His father, two of his brothers, his son and three grandsons are barbers as well. (Photo/Manuel Crespo Feliciano)

"Click, click, click," the sound of scissors clipping flies through the entire room. He glides the comb with splendid mastery causing it to dance in perfect synchronicity with the hair clipper. He stops every six or seven scissor movements to narrate, proud, the blessing of having the first solar energy-fueled barbershop in the island.

"At first I did not believe it, you know. But then when they came here to do the work and put everything, lights and everything, then from there to here I am happy. Even at night I work here thanks to God and thanks to them," Pérez declared in an interview with AccuWeahter. Pérez is the owner of the Barbería Pérez barber shop and is happy to be able to count on the security provided by several solar panels and storage batteries provided by Casa Pueblo.

Community management to solve the energy crisis

Casa Pueblo, a self-managed community organization founded in the early 1980s, was a beacon of hope for merchants like Don Wilfredo who, in the midst of the energy crisis that was experienced throughout the island after Hurricane Maria struck, saw their incomes threatened and the livelihoods of their families at risk.

Since its founding, Casa Pueblo has been a faithful defender of the country's environmental causes, as well as a center for transformation and education for rural and disadvantaged communities in the center of the island.

However, 18 months ago when Hurricane Maria knocked out about 80 percent of the distribution lines of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), the organization has adopted a new mission: to transform the country's energy infrastructure and provide tools to the communities to be resilient in the face of atmospheric events.

"This is not something we do every day. But after the hurricane, we identified the issue of energy infrastructure as a critical problem that must be dealt with, " Arturo Massol Deyá, executive director of Casa Pueblo, told AccuWeather.

Arturo Massol, Casa Pueblo

Arturo Massol Deyá, together with Casa Pueblo, has led a community aid response that aims to change the energy landscape from fossil fuels to one based on renewable energy sources, such as solar energy. (Photo/Manuel Crespo Feliciano)

Since 1999, Casa Pueblo operates completely with solar energy and has been a model of excellence in defining community self-sustainability.

"Generating energy at a point of consumption, without the dependence on the transmission and distribution lines, gave us the possibility of opening Casa Pueblo immediately after the hurricane," Massol Deyá added.

Furthermore, in the middle of the crisis, the organization managed to become an "energy oasis" for the hundreds of people who came to the center to charge their cellphones, store medication or simply have a break from the terrible situation of not having energy service in their homes.

As time went on and a better-coordinated effort to distribute humanitarian aid developed, the light that Casa Pueblo offered in its facilities to the approximately 20,000 residents of the village of Adjuntas began to spread through the mountainous corners of the municipality.

"We started with solar lamps, then we switched to solar refrigerators, then we started to install solar systems in homes in different communities," explained Massol Deyá, who is also a professor in the department of biology at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez.

Little by little, and almost organically, Casa Pueblo has been transforming the energy environment in the rural area of Adjuntas: 40 residences, five supermarkets, a radio transmitter, 10 dialysis systems, hardware stores, senior centers, a fire station, restaurants and even a cinema, are completely energized with solar energy and disconnected from the centralized energy system that operates in a large part of the country.

This will not only provide the possibility of continuing to operate normally in the event of another hurricane, but will accelerate the process of economic reactivation and provide resilience to the communities, explained Massol Deyá.

"Now, we are moving forward to challenge and transform our energy landscape at the local level to be used as a reference for Puerto Rico of what we can do," he added.

Energy insurrection from the mountain

Puerto Rico PREPA

In this Sept. 20, 2017 file photo, electricity poles and lines lie toppled on the road after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. It is estimated that 90% of the roofs in Puerto Rico are viable for the establishment of solar systems. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti, File)

Given this panorama, Casa Pueblo has taken a step forward with the creation of "50% con SOL": an initiative whose goal is to see half of the energy produced on the island come from solar sources by 2027.

"We call this the energy insurrection. Educate people, so that from below we can take action and challenge the configuration of energy that is imposed from above," Massol Deyá said.

According to data from PREPA, during the past 10 years the demand for energy on the Island has decreased by 18% for regular customers and a whopping 48% in the industrial sector.

Factors such as the economic recession that crosses the island, migration and poverty appear to be the cause of the problem.

The governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, announced in January 2018 the privatization of PREPA, a public corporation founded in 1979 that has been struggling with serious financial liquidity problems in recent years.

The idea proposed by Roselló Nevares is to privatize the generation of energy and provide a definite term concession for the distribution and transmission of energy, with the idea of making the system more competitive in the global market.


However, a transformation of the energy landscape to greener alternatives does not seem to be part of this discussion.

For his part, Massol Deyá indicated that thanks to Hurricane Maria, the task of educating people about the need to change the energy landscape of the island has become easier.

"We have been teaching people the value of being self-sufficient in energy and embracing renewable energy sources for a long time. After the hurricane we have been vindicated, people are more open and want to learn more because they saw that it worked (solar energy) after the hurricane," concluded Massol Deyá.

Listen to AccuWeather reporter Jonathan Petramala and AccuWeather and AccuWeather en Español's journalist Manuel Crespo Feliciano, discuss their experience covering the special series "Puerto Rico: The Art of Recovery":

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