Solar power is helping flower grower Hector Santiago get back on his feet in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated much of the United States territory’s electricity grid. Six years ago, he sank $300,000 into 244 solar panels, and said everyone told him he was crazy because of the cost. Today, he has power and is rebuilding his nursery.
Santiago’s Cali Nurseries, which sells decorative plants and poinsettias to firms like Cosco and Walmart, suffered tremendous losses during the storm. Hurricane Maria damaged plants and greenhouses, ripping off roofs and flattening trees. Santiago told The Washington Post his losses amounted to an estimated $1.5 million.
But he’s been able to begin rebuilding his Barranquitas farm with the help of electricity thanks his investment in solar energy. The storm damaged 25 percent of the photovoltaic panels, but there’s still enough energy to start rebuilding his operation. The power allowed him to keep pumping water from wells, as the business’ 19 employees cleaned up and repotted plants.
Santiago was unable to get back to his farm for five days following the hurricane, and when he finally returned he found his employees hard at work, as they had been since the first day. He told The Washington Post, “I just started crying, I choked up, when I saw them working like nothing had happened. They give me the strength to not give up and to do whatever I have to do to continue with my business.”
The devastation in Puerto Rico has resulted in an increased interest in renewable energy. Solar installation firm owner Henry Pichardo, who works out of Bayamon, said Hurricane Maria could boost his business by 20 percent per year. He said he’s been flooded with inquiries after the storm.
He told Reuters, “People are going to become more conscious of how they are living, and invest more in solar.”