Hurricane Irma knocked out the power while residents of the Florida town of Titusville sought shelter inside Apollo Elementary School. But there remained a source of electricity in Classroom 408, thanks to an economic stimulus program set in motion by President Barack Obama in his first days in office.
Each Election Day, the school serves as the polling place for Precinct 112, a district in Brevard County—where 65 percent of the voters chose Donald Trump. Some of those same people returned to Apollo as temporary refugees 10 months later and lined up at the classroom to charge their cellphones and pour themselves a cup of hot coffee.
They did not likely offer thanks to Obama for the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which funded such public projects as the $10 million UCF Florida Solar Energy Center program to create SunSmart E-Shelters in 115 schools. Each E-Shelter provides enough power to charge a battery and provide limited emergency lighting and power outlets in one of the classrooms.
“We had one popular classroom,” Apollo principal Frank O’Leary said of aftermath of Irma. “People were lined up.”
Among Obama’s larger achievements that seem all but forgotten is the economic recovery. Vice President Joe Biden might have been able to remind voters that the Obama administration had saved the nation from economic disaster, but he decided not to run in 2016. Hillary Clinton made too many people think not of the recovery, but of big money Wall Street, which perpetrated the economic calamity in the first place.
So, Trump carried Precinct 112 in Brevard County along with Florida and enough of the nation to become president. He is dismissive of science and skeptical about climate change and sees no need for solar power when we could just be mining coal, coal, coal. He has moved to cut by more than 70 percent the budget for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the DOE, the very office that funded the SunSmart E-Shelters that were a big success at Apollo and 114 other Florida schools in the aftermath of Irma.
Since Trump describes himself as law enforcement’s biggest supporter, maybe he could at least fund a program modeled after the emergency use of solar traffic signals by the police in the Florida town of Coral Springs. The sun-powered lights were placed in 13 major intersections following Irma.
“They are automatic, have a solar battery that stores enough energy for four days, and even have turning signals,” a Coral Springs police spokesman informed the press.
Among the homeowners who have been prescient enough to harness sunshine in the Sunshine State is Eugenio Pereira of Gainesville. He installed solar panels on his roof a fortnight ago, along with a device capable of diverting the power to a pair of outlets when the grid is down. He was able to keep on some lights along with his Wi-Fi and recharge cellphones in the wake of Irma.
“During the day, I could download Netflix films on my phone and watch them at night,” he told The Daily Beast.
He could not run appliances after the sun went down, but the refrigerator retained enough cool for the perishable medicine his wife requires.
“That stayed OK, so I was happy about that,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and left the entire island without power save for the few places that have solar. These include the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan, but nobody could be reached there yesterday who was able to report on how the system is working. News footage from the island showed the sun was shining with all its power even as officials were saying the grid may not be fully restored for months.
In Florida, the grid is almost completely restored. Pereira and others with solar capability are again able to sell any excess power to whichever utility services their area. The SunSmart E-Shelters at the Apollo and the other schools are doing the same. Students who are interested can go online and see exactly how much electricity their particular classroom is providing.
Along with moving to cut the budget of the office that bankrolled E-Shelters, the Trump administration has continued to ignore seemingly incontrovertible evidence that hurricanes are intensified by warmer water, which is the result of climate change.
At the school that served as a polling place where two-thirds of the voters went for Trump, there may well be more storm-torn days when some of those same people line up at classroom 408. E-Shelters will then once again use solar power made possible by Obama.
Of course, every decent soul of whatever political persuasion hopes there will be no more monster hurricanes. The Apollo principal, O’Leary, reported on Tuesday that the 6th grade class is back in classroom 408 and the school back to what he feels will be a very good year.
“It’s going great,” O’Leary was able to say. “I love it.”