In the wake of Hurricane Maria, the power system’s failure was a key factor in the estimated 4,645 deaths associated with the storm. Hospitals and senior homes lost air conditioning and refrigeration. Vital communication networks stopped functioning in part due to a lack of power. Illnesses and injuries that would normally be manageable spiraled into health crises. In response, a movement demanding an island-wide shift to rooftop solar energy was born. For Massol Deyá and his parents — Alexis Massol González and Tinti Deyá Díaz, who founded Casa Pueblo — a vision evolved of an Adjuntas that relied on itself for electricity and disaster management, not the local or federal governments.
In addition to installing solar panels, Casa Pueblo expanded a farm project to enhance the community’s food security. It wasn’t just resiliency that emerged. Much of Puerto Rico’s politics have been defined by lines dividing those who want statehood for the island and those who want the island to be independent of U.S. governance. It’s a fight that has at times overlooked the immediate needs of the people. But another kind of politics was developing in Adjuntas. “The people are different. They’ve learned to break the energy dependence. They are people who run their own system,” Massol González said. It’s a concept known as auto-gestión, which roughly translates to “self-management,” and which many islanders view as key to breaking the colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States.
Like Massol Deyá, public officials advocating for natural gas saw the power transition required in the wake of the hurricane as a means to develop a new kind of economy. But while Massol Deyá’s vision looked inward, toward communities empowered to support themselves and their neighbors, the Puerto Rican government’s plan was to use the grid rehabilitation to attract outside investors and become a key node in a global fossil fuel economy.