• The Star Staff

Level of transparency, dearth of details make it difficult to ascertain LUMA’s plans for grid

By The Star Staff

The level of transparency of LUMA Energy in different proceedings before the island’s energy regulator has made it difficult for the general public to ascertain the private company’s exact plans for improving the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s (PREPA) grid.

LUMA Energy, the company that will operate Puerto Rico’s electric power transmission and distribution (T&D) system for the next 15 years, has several proceedings before the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau (PREB), including budgets, metrics, system operation principles, and system remediation plans that are needed to begin the takeover of the PREPA T&D system on June 1.

However, in some of the crucial proceedings such as those related to the budget and system remediation plans, LUMA Energy officials have consistently requested that some of the information be kept confidential, making it difficult to obtain data on the plans. At least one person has complained about the lack of granularity or detailed information available because officials of the private consortium speak in general terms about the plans.

“There are too many generalities,” noted Tomás Torres, the consumer representative to the PREPA governing board.

One of the PREB commissioners raised the point that customers should have a place to go and read about what the company’s plans are with the grid.

LUMA’s technical conference presentation to the PREB of its system remediation plan (SRP) contains 23 pages of introduction about LUMA and the different proceedings before the PREB before going into the actual presentation of the 42-page SRP.

The SRP establishes the strategy to remediate, repair, replace and stabilize the T&D system. It is the plan to address areas that are below standard and pose the highest risk. It comes from Section 4.1 of the contract, which states that the T&D does not meet performance standards. It is a subset of the improvement program. Forty-six of the total 69 recovery and transformation programs fall within the SRP.

PREB Commissioner Lillian Mateo said that after spending the day discussing the SRP and whether something should or should not be covered by the SRP, she wanted to know whether LUMA representatives will direct customers to a single document discussing the work.

“All of the work is covered in the single budget [filing before the PREB], so that would be it,” noted LUMA Vice President Mario Hurtado.

When Mateo asked if he thought a layperson would understand the document, Hurtado replied, “I don’t know. We tried to write it in a way that is understandable.”

He added that once the PREB approves LUMA’s plans, he hopes summaries of the plan can be put on the website.

Regarding the SRP, LUMA officials said that in fiscal year (FY) 2022, which starts July 1, LUMA plans to spend $620 million on system remediation, which is about 62% of total spending. For FY 2023, the company will spend $801 million and the following year, $799 million. Most of the funding will come from federal appropriations.

What will happen if the federal funding does not materialize? Hurtado said they will have to make decisions on where to prioritize the funding.

While the SRP focuses on repairs of equipment that is considered critical, the examples provided by LUMA Energy included compromised or broken wood quality at the base of utility poles, as well as damaged substation structures.

In response to questions from PREB expert Roger Schifman, LUMA officials said they plan to do inspections, including one on asset data and another more detailed one that will focus on hosting capabilities.

Don Cortez, vice president of utility transformation for LUMA Energy, said the highest priority in the SRP for system reliability is the replacement of the energy management system, or EMS, a system of computer-aided tools used by operators of electrical utility grids to monitor, control and optimize the performance of the generation and/or transmission system.