How Solar Energy Ran a Haitian Hospital During the Energy WarGangs seized control of the ports at which ships bringing fuel docked, cutting off supplies, in an effort to force the Acting President to step down
Yesterday, we looked at the first part of the “Appropriate Technology: the Haitian Energy Problem” podcast (October 13, 2022). Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed engineers Brian Thomas and Kayla Garrett of JustEnergy on the current shortage of energy sources in Haiti. In the second part of the podcast, they look at what might be done:
A partial transcript, notes, and additional resources follow.
Brian Thomas: Let’s stop and think. If gasoline is $20, $25 a gallon — even if it’s $10 a gallon — and you make very little money or you don’t have a job at all… tThen gasoline is like cash. You can sell that. You can turn around and sell that. So gasoline is like money.
Robert J. Marks: Gotcha.
Brian Thomas: In December 2021, a tanker truck was coming in to fill up some of the gas stations there… The gasoline tanker truck overturned and was laying on its side and leaking gasoline. People were so desperate that they ran out with every little container they could find.
This was in a neighborhood, by the way, not an industrial area. And they started scooping up to all the gasoline they could. It was spilling into the ditches. People were scooping it up because it’s free money.
Robert J. Marks: They had to have a lot of mud and dirt in the gasoline they scooped up, probably. Wouldn’t be pretty high quality, would it?
Brian Thomas: No, I’m sure it wasn’t very high quality. But more importantly, after a while, the puddle of gasoline spread to a trash fire that had been smoldering off on the edges. And then the whole thing blew up and over 90 people were killed, burned to death.
It was really quite horrific. I was there at the time. We were working in a hospital on a solar project, and I heard the news. In fact, a lot of the burn victims were taken to the hospital where we were working and they were bringing people out in body bags as we were there. It was traumatic …
Robert J. Marks: So one of the things that you are doing is, you’re installing solar panels. We’ll talk more about this in a little bit. But are you making a little glitch in the use of fossil fuels to power these generators?
Brian Thomas: I think we are. We’re reducing the usage, and we’re sometimes making electricity available when it otherwise would not be, when there otherwise would be no electricity. Zero. Because at $25 a gallon, you just can’t afford to turn on the generator.
Kayla Garrett: And the state-owned grid is not accessible or operational.
Brian Thomas: Yeah, that’s a good point. Kayla. In the United States, we get our power from the grid and it comes from some magical place off on the horizon. But there is no functional grid in Haiti. Or if it is, as Kayla mentioned earlier, maybe 20% of the people, and that’s largely in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, have access to power. Nobody gets it 24/7 and places out like the suburbs of Cap-Haitien, there is no grid.
Robert J. Marks: Wow. Okay. So the fall of 2021 is when you had to take your own gasoline to the hospital in order to deliver a baby. There was also a fuel shortage in the fall of 2022, just recently. What was going on there?
Brian Thomas: What’s going on is that there are some heavily armed gangs and there’s one particular gang led by a fellow who goes with a nickname Barbecue. And he has taken control of the two ports where fuel is imported into Port-au-Prince, the capital city.
Brian Thomas: He’s essentially kidnapped the fuel. He’s holding it hostage. He’s not allowing it to flow out into the rest of the country.
Robert J. Marks: Doesn’t the government push back on this at all?
Kayla Garrett: There would probably be, if there was much of a government standing at the moment. Last summer, the president of Haiti was assassinated and currently the previous prime minister is the acting president. And there’s very little political stability in an already tumultuous situation.
Brian Thomas: In fact, just yesterday, Bob, the Prime Minister asked the international community for armed intervention, armed help. He invited them in …
Robert J. Marks: Well, we certainly send a lot of money to Ukraine for military reasons. It seems that we could help out in Haiti also. Unfortunately, anytime the United States gives money, it arrives in leaky buckets and it doesn’t get to where it’s supposed to go many times.
Brian Thomas: If there’s not an infrastructure to receive it properly either, it’s scary because then it just goes to empower the people who are causing the trouble. Another complicator too is cholera. They have, in the last week, had outbreaks of cholera.
Kayla Garrett: Which hasn’t happened in years.
Brian Thomas: It hasn’t because they’ve had clean water. But because of the lack of fuel, they can’t operate water purification facilities and cholera is a waterborne disease and so it’s starting to spread. And now, add that to the fact that the hospitals don’t have electricity to treat those people and we’re looking at a pending humanitarian crisis, in my opinion.
Robert J. Marks: Oh my goodness. So what are the hospitals doing? Are they still trying to operate without power? Are they closing down? What are they doing?
Brian Thomas: Some of them are trying to operate. Some of them are operating on limited hours. Some of them have solar energy systems that we’ve put in, and they’re actually operational.
Just this week we received a message from one of the clinics that we had worked on last year and got this new solar system put in for them. This is from, I’d say, a medium-sized clinic outside the city of Cap-Haitien, just a little town outside of it. And the doctor says, in his note, “This is to tell you how the solar system really helped at this difficult time. While the other medical centers are obliged to close or work limited hours, we are able to function as we used to, saving people with asthma and those in need of oxygen by using electric oxygen concentrators. Our clinic performed 41 C-sections last month, partly because no one could get to Cap-Haitien.” Yeah, there’s no fuel for transportation, so they couldn’t get into the cities. He says, “None of this would be possible without the solar system.” …
Robert J. Marks: Congratulations. That’s really a blessing that you’ve given them. So let’s ask right now, where are you at? What do you need? Just Energy is a nonprofit organization, but most of your people, as Kayla said, are volunteers and you need money to hit the ground and to do things. So tell me, what are your needs right now?
Kayla Garrett: Well, right now I’d say that our biggest need is donations. Money for propane generators to send in an instance of relief for just providing electricity right now in a form that can be used.
Robert J. Marks: Just to give an example, how much would a propane generator cost? I’m sure they charge depending how big it is but … kind of a ballpark?
Brian Thomas: We think about $3,000 buys the generator, converts it from running on gasoline to run on propane, and then helps with the transportation costs of getting it there.
We’re partnering with another NGO called Archangel Airborne, which is kind of private plane taking in some things for us and for some other groups.
Robert J. Marks: Now, tell us how to financially contribute to Just Energy. And if you can’t contribute specifically besides prayers, what can you do?
Kayla Garrett: We do have a website, justiceandmercy.energy, and that’s where you can find more information about the work that we’re doing as well as make a secure donation through PayPal. Those donations can go towards paying for these propane generators. Or, in many instances, it pays the paychecks of our guys in Haiti doing maintenance and installations of all these projects and keeping the systems up and running — that we can give them equitable pay for the service that they’re doing. So justiceandmercy.energy is a great place to do that.
Robert J. Marks: And is there a way if somebody wants to mail you a check? I’m not a big user of PayPal, I’m a Venmo guy, or I like to send checks through my bank. Is there a way that you can send an address, where you can send the send checks?
Brian Thomas: A good address would be
Justice and Mercy Energy
Number One Bear Place
PO Box 60003
Waco, Texas 76798
Robert J. Marks: So that is really great. Guys, what you’re doing is incredible. And you’re doing it on a shoestring, you’re doing out of love and I don’t know, you’re astonishing. So God bless you for the work you’re doing.
Brian Thomas: Oh, thank you. Hey, Bob. We do have a Venmo too. It’s the Haitian Creole spelling of Just Energy. It’s JizEneji: J-I-Z-E-N-E-J-I.
Here’s the earlier part of the podcast: In Haiti, debates over electric vs. gas-powered cars are a luxury. Never mind self-driving cars. The quest for “just enough” energy is a daily, sometimes life-and-death issue, as Kayla Garrett and Brian Thomas tell Robert J. Marks. One of Just Energy’s personnel was told to bring his own gasoline to power the operating room generators for a C-section for his wife and baby.
- JustEnergy website: https://justiceandmercy.energy/
- Support JustEnergy via Venmo: JizEneji
- JustEnergy Mailing Address:
1 Bear Place
PO Box 60003
Waco, TX 76798