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  • Writer's pictureCari Mackey

Solar Powered in Panama.

If someone came to your door and said to you "We would like to power your home free of charge. You don't have to change anything, and you will never have to pay another power bill." I'm sure you would pause before closing the door because it obviously sounds too good to be true, right? But what if it was true? How easy it would be to plan your monthly budget, your business plan, your retirement. I bet you'd take a hot moment to listen.

Now, imagine you have a new home and need electricity. Where you live, you simply call the local power company, apply for this basic utility, and soon after that...let there be light! Well, this was one of those surprising moments of building our business and our life in Panama. When you need power, it could take years to get hooked up to the grid and even then, that doesn't mean you'll actually have reliable power. Third world problems....

Here's how it happened in our area of Panama (warning, you may need a col-col for this long story): We arrived in 2015 to an area without phones, internet, no cell service, and a lot of people living without power. For many this sounds like an uninhabitable area. But we begged to differ and, it was SO beautiful.

But, we actually needed to have all of those things in order to build a business so we had to figure it out. And, like I tell everyone, in Panama: "Some things are easier, and some much, much, harder."

To apply for power to our property, we had to go to the Fire Department who is are also the building permit department. So your emergency response team can backboard you or approve your framing, plumbing and electrical systems in your home. I wonder how my firefighter friends in CO would feel about that?

After several visits to that office which is almost 3 hours away on a stressful pot-hole laden road that you couldn't exceed 25 mph (40 kph), with our plans to be approved, let's just say, every visit required something different, and every visit was frustrating to say the least. Blah, blah, blah, I finally got the requisite stamps to then apply for power to be hooked up to our property so we could build!

No problem right?! I go to the energy department office, get a waiting # from the receptionist and wait to be called. I go to the desk, proudly share my plans that have more stamps than a stamp collector, fill out the application paperwork, pay for the permit and off I go thinking I will have power in a few days. I totally got this!

First though, I just have to go buy the electrical meter and install it to a "tapia" for the power company to hook up to. Sounded slightly sketchy to me but okay. Thankfully the electrical store had one in stock. I could even buy a used one if I wanted. Weird.

A week goes by and no power. I go back to the office and go through the waiting in line etc. and ask for an update. She tells me she has no updates, I just need to wait.

Trying to play it patient and cool, no worries. New country, new process, I got this. I can wait. So I go home...and wait...and wait...and wait....There's no way to get an update (no phones, no internet, no online website service etc.) or an idea of when they are coming, and since none of us have addresses, you have to be home so you don't miss the random power company truck that's stopping by to hook you up.

This, I did learn was a great way to meet your neighbors. You all of a sudden have a fear of leaving your property just in case the power company truck will show up and you're not there. You guessed it, theydon't wait and there's no telling when they'll return either. So, everyone in your hood knows you're waiting for them and is on alert to help guide the electricians to your property to hook you up addresses.

Months go by, no power. I visit the power company offices every week and wait in hopes my persistence will annoy them enough to hook up my power. Damn these people are impressively patient. A year goes by, nothing, and then another year, nothing, and finally, I lose it. I barged into the managers office, sat down and wouldn't move without some answers. It was an aggressive move that I don't regret though it didn't work anyways.

We filed a lawsuit with the Panamanian Better Business Bureau because not only do I need power at this point, I also have guests arriving soon for our opening and my patience has run out. This lawsuit totally worked! About a month later, the truck showed up and 10 min later, I had power. Wow. I should've lost my patience long before that. Note to self.

We had power from the one power line (not a grid system) to our area (costs 2-3 times more than power in the USA) but it was so unreliable, we installed a sweet generator to keep our hotel and A/C's powered. We had always planned on installing solar to our Eco Resort but getting a loan here is impossible and tax credits don't exist so it took years to save up and thankfully, we met an amazing solar company - NSolar - a perfect match.

Then you know what happened? COVID!!! There went all our savings. A couple years go by and it's time. The power still goes out every day, we had to secretly insulate their power lines to protect the animals, and at every turn, it's just frustrating and not acceptable for an Eco Resort to be connected to the coal-fired, river damming, power company here so, we are finally here.

This week, In partnership with NSolar, it's happening. We will be powered by the sun soon and though we cannot disconnect from our power company entirely, we will some day. Now, I have to apply for a meter that runs backwards. How long do you wager that will take? Solar power isn't "free" but after the equipment investment pays off, we're pretty darned close. It turns out the sun doesn't send out a bill and she always produces.

Your Friends in Morrillo, Cari and Ryan Mackey Owners and Hosts Morrillo Beach Eco Resort

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