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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Mayors ask US Energy secretary to expedite promised additional emergency power

Villalba Mayor Luis Javier Hernández Ortiz and Camuy Mayor Gabriel Hernández Rodríguez

By The Star Staff

The presidents of the Puerto Rico Mayors Federation and Mayors Association, Gabriel Hernández Rodríguez and Luis Javier Hernández Ortiz, respectively, made a joint request to U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to accelerate the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) project to install several mega-generators on the island to complement the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) with at least 700 megawatts (MW) of additional power.

“This pledge, to be executed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), would allow the island’s power plants to be systematically taken offline while much-needed major repairs were made,” said Hernández Rodríguez, who is the mayor of Camuy.

“Since hurricanes Irma and Maria made landfall in September 2017, and Fiona in September 2022, the more than three million U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico have struggled with constant blackouts and voltage fluctuations, primarily due to an aging power system in urgent need of repair, and renewal,” the mayors said in a letter to Granholm, co-written in a rare show of bipartisanship.

Hernández Ortiz, the mayor of Villalba, added that “this problem knows no political affiliations or ideologies, harming all social and economic sectors, adversely affecting daily life and social activities, as well as commercial operations at all levels.”

“In addition, the lack of energy threatens the fragility of the lives of people with delicate conditions throughout Puerto Rico,” he said.

Both mayors noted that the recent record high temperatures on the island, coming in the midst of the hurricane season, which peaks this month, represent a combination with long-term damaging effects on people in terms of their lives and the economy.

In fact, in recent days, the island’s power-generation system has not been able to produce enough capacity, and the required operating reserve has not been sufficient to meet peak demand hours, as reported by LUMA Energy and GeneraPR.

“As of today, the fulfillment of that promise [of emergency generators] is in process,” Hernández Ortiz said. “Generators installed by the U.S. Corps of Engineers (USACE) currently total 350 MW. This barely covers the current deficiency of the system and only 20% of the required reserve of the system.”

“Although they are certainly appreciated by the population, those 350 MW will hardly allow Puerto Rico’s energy system to sustain itself, thus prolonging and postponing the repairs and modernizations that it needs so much,” he added.

The mayors told Granholm in that letter that “what we convey to you, who was appointed by President Joe Biden to address the island’s energy situation, is no longer a cry for help from government officials, or the private sector; all citizens living in Puerto Rico need FEMA and USACE to take a firm step forward and fulfill their promise, manifested by the following:

• Complete the installation of 200 MW at the San Juan Power Plant site.

• Synchronize those units with the generation system.

• Install additional capacity to reach at least the promised 700 MW.

“We appreciate your attention and recognize your interest in the subject, which is evidenced by your constant visits to the island to meet with a variety of groups,” the mayors wrote. “We look forward to prompt action and support regarding this urgent matter.”

A copy of the letter to Granholm was sent to Gretchen Sierra Zorita, the director for Puerto Rico and the territories in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

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