Local man brings solar power to Puerto Rico

BRATTLEBORO — One local man, Joseph Mangum, has taken it upon himself to help restore power to the hurricane-ravaged island of Puerto Rico.

"We are building solar generators and delivering water pump purifiers for the hardest hit areas," said Mangum. "Solar generators have myriad uses. Medical needs such as refrigeration for insulin and power to phones for communication and information are two of the largest concerns."

Mangum, who runs Sunnyside Solar in West Brattleboro, has issued a plea for donations to help people in Puerto Rico who are suffering from the destruction brought on by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. Mangum has set up a gofundme campaign at www.gofundme.com/solargens4pr. A bit over $5,000 of the $20,000 goal has been donated. Mangum, however, is not waiting for the campaign closes to get to work. With the money he has, he is already acting to bring relief to those who need it now.

One of the systems will be set up at the shop of a local handy man, who is working to repair things for the people in his community. He has power tools, but he cannot use them because of a total lack of power. With a solar system in place, his progress on fixing things will be much faster.

The other four systems will be installed at emergency shelters in community centers. Without power, the centers have no ventilation for people trying to sleep in crowded conditions. That can be a serious problem in the tropics, especially when people have to endure it night after night. Each system will power a small ventilation system at night, provide power during the daytime to charge cell phones and provide a wifi-to-satellite communication system. These system will provide valuable lifelines to a lot of people.

Mangum can provide solar systems, complete with battery backup, for $1 per watt, a fraction of the lowest price currently offered. The $5,000 of donations has been used to put together five solar systems. Each system consists of 1,000 watts of solar panels, a charge controller, and an inverter. Each system will also have a battery.

"We aren't making any money doing this," said Mangum. "In fact we are using up a lot of our own money for traveling, and on food, water purifiers, and seeds."

Mangum managed to get a special deal on the components from a helpful wholesaler.

"These systems use panels designed for the tropics," he said. "They are rated for temperatures of 60 to 100 degrees. They might not work well in Vermont."

He added that because the emergency in Puerto Rico is happening now, he is providing systems that can be set up quickly and at low cost. So the components are very inexpensive, and not of the highest quality, precisely because more of them can be made for the same amount of money. They are needed now, and if more people can be helped by using equipment that might not last 10 years, that is all right, he said.

Mangum is traveling with Mark Lamoureux, who works in Keene, N.H., installing solar systems. They left for San Juan on Friday, Oct. 27, bringing five solar generators, two high-volume water purifier pumps, 150 life straws, 20,000 seeds to replant agriculture, and 20 individual food bags that consist of five pounds of rice, one pound of dried beans, one pound of dried lentils, four packages of instant mashed potatoes, two cans of tuna, and a small bag of dried fruit.

"I wish we could bring down so much more on this plane ride down," said Mangum.

Mangum's wife was raised on the island, and her family still lives there. Mangum's many friends in Puerto Rico have already identified sites for the solar systems. All of them will go to municipalities in the interior of the island. In two cases, the towns are cut off completely. Not only do they have no electric power, they have no water, and the roads have been wiped out by the storm. One of his friends sent a video with a set of aerial before-and-after pictures showing the storm damage. It can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8niFuk75cc. Mangum said soon he hopes to meet with the mayors of Comerio and Jayuya.

"We are going into the mountains in the central of the island and the going will be tough," said Mangum. "So we are quite prepared for on-the-fly decision making. [Absence of communication] outside of San Juan also makes everything more complicated as well. I'll be three weeks on an island that is almost totally dark, with no safe water outside of a bottle to drink, no communications and certainly a limited window for email. People are scared, the mental anguish will be hard, seeing the devastating losses will hurt me, and the island I love and know as Boriken will have to be accepted as totally wiped. I will see my friends and family and hear their stories of struggle as well."

A version of this article appeared in Green Energy Times.

George Harvey writes from Brattleboro. He can be contacted at geoharvey@aol.com.     


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