As recovery efforts continue, private investment playing a major role
As Puerto Rico continues to forward its recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria struck the islands, private investment from corporations in America may prove pivotal in making up for areas where the federal government of the United States has struggled logistically.
Opinions on the President’s response to Puerto Rico, especially from within the island, have been mixed. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló has been modestly approving of the US Government’s response but has made clear that much more work remains. When the governor was in Washington, DC on October 19, he said, “We need to recognize there’s still a lot of work to go ahead. There’s still things we need to surface from the emergency. We’ll be talking about those issues, what our pressing needs are at the current moment but also looking forward to recovery and rebuilding efforts.” Perhaps the president’s most vocal critic within Puerto Rico, San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz has criticized the US federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria, calling the situation in Puerto Rico a “humanitarian crisis.” Thus far, 48 official deaths have been recorded as a result of the hurricane. A month removed from the hurricane approximately 79 percent of the islands is still without electricity.
In light of what many perceive as inadequate response on the part of the US federal government, the big tech firms of the US and Silicon Valley have stepped in to provide private investment. Smaller, less established companies have also been given an opportunity to contribute to the recovery effort.
Facebook has pledged to donate $1.5 million to recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, planning to split the money between the World Food Program and Net Hope, an association representing dozens of nonprofits and tech companies.
Electric company Tesla has taken a significant role in the recovery effort. CEO Elon Musk personally donated $250,000 to relief efforts in Puerto Rico and his company has begun sending hundreds of Tesla’s powerwall battery systems to Puerto Rico. Tesla has sent employees to assist in installing the battery systems, which store solar energy and can be paired with solar panels. This week Tesla installed a solar power plant at Hospital del Niño and publicized images of the plant.
Tesla noted on Twitter that this is project was the “first of many solar+storage projects going live”. Governor Rossello and Puerto Rican Chief Innovation Officer Glorimar Ripoli proposed turning the territory into a flagship example of what Tesla’s solar technologies can do for the world.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai said this week that the company and its employees are offering $1 million in donations to relief organizations, including the Red Cross and UNICEF, to aid recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. The parent company of Google, Alphabet, has installed stratospheric balloons that are now delivering internet service to remote areas of Puerto Rico where cellphone towers were knocked out by Hurricane Maria. Alphabet has been given the green light by the Federal Communications Commission to send as many as 30 balloons to serve hard-hit areas.
AT&T spokesman Jeffrey Kobs said the company has set up 14 temporary cell sites, and that now more than 60 percent of the population was connected via mobile network, in part with the help of Alphabet’s Project Loon operation.
The efforts to assist have not been limited to America’s large tech companies, smaller firms are also being given opportunities to assist the cause. The Puerto Rico Electric Power authority has brought in a Montana company, Whitefish Energy Holdings, to help its crews restore the transmission and distribution lines across the island. It has a rolling contract and can bill up to $300 million for its work. Other firms that have been given contracts to work in Puerto Rico include Fluor Corp., which was awarded a $336.2 million contract from the Army Corps of Engineers and Weston Solutions, which is providing generators to stabilize power in the capital, San Juan, for $35 million.
With President Trump tweeting that the United States could not keep FEMA in Puerto Rico “forever,” perhaps signaling a reluctance on his administration’s part to provide federal funds in the long run, Puerto Rico may serve as an example of the economic and humanitarian leverage a socially conscious private sector can have in aiding natural disaster recovery efforts.