Displaced PREPA employees insist that LUMA’s not ready for the peak of hurricane season
By Alejandra M. Jover Tovar
Special to The STAR
After an electrical breakdown left the University Hospital for Adults without electricity for more than 24 hours, displaced Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) employees insisted that LUMA Energy personnel are neither trained nor ready to deal with the peak of hurricane season.
Karlexy Rosario, a former lineman ll and president of the Energy Alliance Chapter of the Electrical Industry and Irrigation Workers Union (UTIER by its Spanish acronym), said that, as a lineman, his job was to provide preventive maintenance to transmission, distribution, and underground lines and minimize interruptions in the electrical system due to breakdowns. He now works as a driver of heavy vehicles in the Department of Education.
“Our priority was to ensure that the components of the electrical system (transformers, electrical conductors, poles, etc.) were in optimal condition,” Rosario said. “If we identified any components that needed to be replaced, the work was scheduled, and if the power had to be interrupted to repair them, customers were notified in advance so they could make arrangements. Since LUMA arrived, none of this is being done, and that is why breakdowns occur almost daily.”
Julio Seda, with 25 years working at PREPA’s Costa Sur plant in maintenance and calibration of protection equipment, substations, and telecommunications, noted that the maintenance program at PREPA was to detect defects in the equipment and avoid major breakdowns to the electrical system.
“My job, along with that of other colleagues, was to provide maintenance, and periodic tests were documented and formed part of each team’s file. … I can say without a doubt that LUMA does not have enough personnel to have all the equipment with its scheduled maintenance up to date,” said Seda, who now also works as a brigade technician at the Public Buildings Authority. “If LUMA alleges that they are working well and up to date, why don’t they show the test and maintenance sheets of each substation that has burned down?”
All displaced employees agree that the lack of trained personnel and system maintenance is crucial to the passage of a major storm through the island and the system recovery process.
“LUMA has not been and will not be ready for an atmospheric event,” Seda said. “We have all witnessed that they do not know our complex electrical system while hundreds of us [are working] in other agencies.”
The group insisted that canceling the contract with LUMA and returning them to their old jobs would solve the problem.
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said on Tuesday that “I don’t defend [LUMA]. I supervise both entities, LUMA and PREPA.”
“LUMA is the result of a transformation that is ongoing,” he said in response to questions from the press during an unrelated press conference. “We do not want the monopoly that existed in the past in the hands of PREPA in transmission and distribution, and that is not an option. The important thing is that it continues to improve its performance, in the case of LUMA.”
The governor said the solution to the problems with the electrical system is reconstruction. “FEMA is moving fast, and we already have about 40 projects approved,” Pierluisi said. “If I remember correctly, there are already 12 under construction, including to improve substations and replace lines.”
Regarding the responsibility for recent blackouts, Pierluisi insisted that it is up to the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau to fine LUMA Energy or PREPA if negligence has occurred.