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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

‘I’m at my limit,’ governor says about outages



Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority Executive Director Josué Colón

By The Star Staff


Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia on Thursday ordered an investigation of LUMA Energy and Genera PR to determine if there was negligence on their part in the events that led to mass blackouts on Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.


“When it is confirmed that a tree, any vegetation is impacting the lines and that can be confirmed by patrolling from helicopters, apart from other technologies that can be used, they have to take action on the matter and there is no valid justification. So that matter, that failure in line 39,000 has to be investigated,” the governor said at a press conference. “In the same way, both failures that we had yesterday must be investigated and I have ordered the Electric Power Authority through [its executive director] engineer Josué Colón and the chairman of its governing board, engineer Francisco Berríos Portela, as well as the Public-Private Partnerships Authority through its executive director, Fermín Fontanéz, to investigate these two incidents in depth and thoroughness, because if it is confirmed that there was negligence on the part of these two entities to restore service to our people, I’m at my limit. They are going to have to pay for that from their own pocket, from their own funds, if we confirm that there was negligence here.”


“Apart from that investigation that I have ordered, I will also be signing today a new executive order that complements the current Executive Order 2024-01, which declares a state of emergency due to the condition of our infrastructure, including the electrical system, and that activates the expedited permitting process under Law 76 of 2000 for reconstruction, modernization and resilience of the electricity system,” Pierluisi added.


The head of LUMA Energy pointed to vegetation as the cause of the blackout that left more than 350,000 subscribers without electricity Wednesday night.

The governor said the new order “will specifically help in the coordination, logistics, transportation, movement of any equipment and any other service that the chief of staff determines is necessary.”


“Once again, I express my complete annoyance and unease at these incidents yesterday that affected so many Puerto Rican families,” he said. “Electricity service is an essential service. I can understand that there are interruptions from time to time due to repairs in the electrical network, repairs in the [power plants] plants themselves; that is understandable. There may be unforeseen breakdowns that cause interruptions, but an interruption at this level, again I repeat, we had only had two similar ones, the one in April 2022 that was even bigger and the one in August 2022 that was similar and we do not want one more.”


After the meeting with the governor, LUMA Energy President & CEO Juan Saca pointed to vegetation as the cause of the blackout that left more than 350,000 subscribers without electricity Wednesday night.


LUMA reported at midday Thursday that its repair teams had restored service to most of the affected customers in the San Juan metropolitan area and the northeast of the island.


In the face of recent blackouts and voltage problems that have damaged electrical appliances of families, merchants and industries, Saca presented two solutions to address the problem.


The first solution, he said, is for the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau to approve an increase in the electricity bill to cover the cost of damaged appliances. The second option is to follow a process similar to the one that existed under the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) before LUMA took over customer billing along with management of the electricity transmission & distribution system.


“I speak directly to the people of Puerto Rico with a lot of empathy and sensitivity because I know what it means to lose belongings,” Saca said at the press conference. “Since LUMA began operating, no company was going to be responsible for everyone’s belongings. If LUMA pays for these damages, the cost will be reflected in the customer’s account. LUMA has a process where people can fill out a form and follow the same rules that existed with PREPA. The form is available on our website or by calling 4888-LUMA.”


Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón, meanwhile, said she would request a federal state of emergency over the repeated blackouts the island has experienced in recent weeks.


“We shouldn’t be repeating what we went through five years ago with the federal funds that have been approved for us,” González Colón said in a recorded video message released Wednesday evening.


González Colón, who defeated Pierluisi in his bid for a second term as governor earlier this month, said the federal emergency declaration would obviate the permitting process and expedite any processing measures.


She said a federal state of emergency would serve to expedite projects to repair the island’s electrical system.


“A declaration of electrical emergency is the correct thing to do at this time,” she said, adding that lives are at stake as well as the economic development of the island.


González Colón said the federal government has a large responsibility in helping ensure that Puerto Rico’s electrical system is sound.


“FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] should intervene since they have a great responsibility in this matter,” she said.


On Thursday, at-large Sen. Keren Riquelme Cabrera called for a federal receivership for transmission and distribution operations, as well as power generation, which are currently in the hands of LUMA and Genera PR, respectively, in the face of the electricity service debacle that has unfolded in recent weeks.


She also echoed the request of San Juan Rep. Víctor Parés Otero, who proposed the creation of the Electrical Reconstruction Coordinator post and suggested Colón, the PREPA chief, to fill it.


Riquelme also asked Pierluisi to consider the use of the Puerto Rico National Guard if there is any suspicion of sabotage in generation plants and/or transmission and distribution lines.


“This situation is unbearable for the people. The constant and prolonged interruptions of electrical service are already too much,” she said. “It is time to take action toward a different path. We support the initiative of Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González to ask for the intervention of the federal government to address the energy crisis, that is the right direction we must take. Similarly, we echo the statements of Camuy Mayor Gabriel Hernández, in which we have to declare an energy emergency. To that we add our proposal for a federal trustee to supervise the reconstruction of the electricity grid completely.”


Francisco Berríos Portela, chairman of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority governing board

Late on Wednesday, San Juan Mayor Miguel Romero Lugo declared by executive order an emergency in the municipality caused by the continuous interruptions in Puerto Rico’s electrical system and the scant information that those responsible for its operation, LUMA in particular, share with the city council.


With Executive Order No MSJ-073, Series 2023-2024, the disbursement of funds and the use of the necessary resources of the municipality is authorized at the administrative level in order to prevent the safety, property, health and life of citizens from being adversely affected, as well as to guarantee the provision of essential services and the operation of the facilities, authorizing the corresponding payments to be made from the previously identified budget item.


Gov. Pedro Pierluisi ordered the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and the Public-Private Partnerships Authority to conduct a full investigation to determine the cause of the overnight transmission line failures that knocked out power for some 350,000 power customers on the island. (Gov. Pierluisi/Facebook)

The order also makes it possible for municipal officials to provide assistance to residents of the capital city by lending or assigning equipment owned by the municipality that is necessary to maintain their health, well-being or safety, among other measures.


“In our communities live a large number of people with particular needs who demand an adequate and reliable supply of electricity,” the order’s preamble says. “There are thousands of children with specific food needs, as well as older adults, who on many occasions need therapy machines to protect their health and on many occasions save their lives.”


On another front, in the face of growing concern about the lack of effective oversight of the contract with LUMA Energy, Guayama District Sen. Héctor Santiago Torres made an urgent call to the governor to dismiss Fontanés as executive director of the Public-Private Partnerships Authority (P3A).


“Since the implementation of the contract with LUMA, numerous sectors have denounced the inefficiency and mismanagement of the electricity system by the company,” Santiago Torres said. “Despite these concerns and repeated failures in service, the [P3A] director [...] has shown a worrying inaction and an inability to ensure that LUMA complies with the terms agreed upon in the contract.”


“In the last year, we have seen a significant increase in blackouts, lack of proper maintenance of electrical infrastructure, and insufficient response to emergencies,” the senator added. “Problems that have affected the daily lives of Puerto Rican citizens, but have also had a negative impact on the local economy and trust in government institutions.”


Also on Thursday, the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras Campus in San Juan declared an administrative and academic recess due to the effects of Wednesday night’s blackout on the campus’ physical plant.

372 views3 comments

3 komentarze


Jan Langrod
Jan Langrod
15 cze

Luma out of Puerto Rico 🇵🇷 Patria Nueva con Juan Dalmau Gobernador !

Polub

cottonwoodaz
14 cze

It was a mistake to give LUMA control of both power generation and power transmission/distribution because you’ll never be able to distinguish if power is lost due to generation or transmission. The government should revise the energy contract to exclude transmission and return control of transmission to the State. The transmission lines are a catastrophe waiting to happen, a single wind event could leave thousands without power. Only the government can cleanup the trees in the public right of way, the overharnessing of wires on poles, and force residents to remove tree branches on their property etc. Only the government has that authority and must exercise it consistently.

Polub

Peter Fonseca
Peter Fonseca
14 cze

I was vising a relative in Sabana Grande in April 2022 and experienced firsthand that blackout mentioned in this article. The electrical and water infrastructure of Puerto Rico is sorely in need of modernization. A combined federal and local remedial plan should be worked out and fully funded without delay.

Polub
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