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Multisectoral perspectives toward a sustainable energy transition in Puerto Rico: Implications for the post-2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season

Glorynel Ojeda-Matos, MP, MS, Marla Pérez-Lugo, PhD, Cecilio Ortiz-García, PhD, Elvia J. Meléndez-Ackerman, PhD

Abstract


Puerto Rico experienced the most prolonged power outage in US history after two hurricanes hit the Archipelago in September 2017. Hurricane Irma left over one million people without electricity, and Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico in a total blackout when it hit. The damages to 80 percent of the electrical grid opened the possibility to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to explore options beyond merely reconstructing and keeping the grid centralized. Prior to these events, an active public discussion on how to transform the electrical system had been occurring regarding a new energy policy passed in 2014 that created Puerto Rico’s first Energy Commission and concerning the first Integrated Resource Plan approved in 2016.

Objective: This study aimed to examine stake-holders’ visions, values, perceived barriers, and opportunities for a sustainable energy transition before the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season and how the stake-holders’ perspectives have been manifesting during post-disaster efforts.

Design: This study examined working documents generated by an Energy Stakeholders Forum (ESF) and semistructured interviews with key stakeholders in the energy decision-making arena.

Setting: The data analyzed in this study were collected for 2 years (2015-2016) before Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico. The ESF had a series of meetings to generate multisectoral dialog and pursue more public participation in energy policy and planning processes. The semistructured interviews were conducted as part of an NSF-Critical Resilient Infrastructure Systems and Processes project investigating stakeholders’ perspectives on the electrical system.

Participants: Thirty-one stakeholders participated in face-to-face semistructured interviews using purposive and snowball sampling. The ESF’s meetings not only gathered up to 60 key stakeholders but also were open to the public.

Results: This study suggests that stakeholders’ perspectives were consistent with the prerequisites for a transition to renewable energy before the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season. However, even though the conditions of vision and values were present, there was also predisaster inertia from nontechnical barriers preventing the sustainable transition that still prevails in post-disaster Puerto Rico.

Conclusion: This paper provides an empirical reflection that ponders Puerto Rico’s post-disaster scenario through predisaster stakeholders’ perspectives. Emergency management professionals should reflect on why understanding predisaster conditions is critical in order to promote recovery efforts that meet the long-term needs of society and support sustainable development for future generations. The analysis may also reinforce planning for disaster recovery via governance approaches that consider stakeholders’ perspectives before disasters strike.


Keywords


Energy transition, recovery planning, stakeholder perspective, public participation, Hurricane Maria, disaster recovery

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5055/jem.0657

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