Pérez Otero: Communication gaps persist between NPP mayors, LUMA

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

Puerto Rico Mayors Federation President Ángel Pérez Otero told the STAR on Tuesday that communication between some New Progressive Party mayors and LUMA Energy, the private consortium in charge of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s (PREPA) transmission and distribution system, is still a struggle even after federation members addressed this concern with LUMA CEO Wayne Stensby last week.

“You will find mayors telling you that communication between them improved, while others tell you otherwise,” Pérez Otero said.

The Guaynabo mayor said such difficulties have led the federation to request that LUMA Energy hold regional meetings to address mayors’ concerns.

“As president of the [Mayors] Federation, I don’t want to hear that some are doing right, while others are not,” he said. “Communication has to improve among everyone, no matter if you’re a federation [mayor] or an association [Popular Democratic Party mayor]; there is no color here.”

“We will maintain oversight so that these meetings happen and communication improves,” Pérez Otero insisted.

Pérez Otero’s statements came amid the Puerto Rico Mayors Association raising concerns on Tuesday over the consortium’s contingency plan as it did not include information such as how many brigades, private entities, workers, and materials were available in case the island is faced with another disaster emergency.

Regarding the meeting between the Mayors Federation and Stensby, Pérez Otero said issues such as communication hurdles and the delay in responding to power outages were brought to the table.

“We indicated that the idiosyncrasy of Puerto Rico is not similar to that of the states, that, possibly, they are not going to be receiving calls from mayors indicating sectors that do not have electricity service,” he said. “I told the president [Stensby] that before you find out that there is a sector of Guaynabo that does not have power or you receive a complaint, I find out first because people are used to calling the municipal offices first when something happens and to seek assistance.”

Henceforth, Pérez Otero said, the consortium promised to hold regional meetings and to allocate “key players” to keep contact with mayors and address further issues.

“Until the construction projects [to rebuild] the entire [transmission and] distribution system begin here -- for which there are already about a billion dollars allocated, and which we hope that, according to him [Stensby], by the end of this year these projects can begin -- then we are going to see a real improvement in the system,” he said. “But it was unacceptable for people to be without electrical service for two, three, even four days.”

The president of the Mayors Federation also said he has called for Stensby to continue recruiting guards and personnel in order to stabilize the utility’s performance “so people would not have to wait so long [for the reestablishment of electric power].”

More than 60 organizations call for congressional investigation of LUMA Energy

Later on Tuesday, around 60 organizations from Puerto Rico and the mainland United States cosigned a letter that urges the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, chaired by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), to investigate LUMA Energy and its lack of transparency as soon as possible.

The letter points out that worsening power supply issues show that LUMA was not prepared to take control of the system on June 1.

“LUMA failed to hire the majority of the employees who worked at PREPA,” the letter states. “As a result of the mistake of not hiring an experienced and trained workforce, LUMA has been unable to manage the grid properly, putting lives and property at risk due to constant blackouts and voltage fluctuations that have resulted in fires and tens of thousands of dollars in damages.”

They also point out in the letter that LUMA will be in charge of managing more than $14 billion in federal funds through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the reconstruction of the power grid, funds that could have been used to establish a power grid sourced with renewable, clean and decentralized energy.

“However, LUMA has shown that it is not interested in moving in that direction and instead bases its plan on rebuilding a centralized system like the one that collapsed during Hurricane Maria,” the organizations warned in the letter, copies of which were sent to Reps. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Katie Porter (D-Calif.), and Gretchen Sierra-Zorita, the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs associate director for Puerto Rico and the territories.

The groups were convened by organizations that support the Queremos Sol proposal, including CAMBIO, El Puente, Sierra Club, Anti-Incineration Coalition, and the Environmental Dialogue Committee.

The effort garnered the support of religious, labor, environmental, community, agricultural and political organizations, as well as the Coalition of Metropolitan Area Public Housing Residents, the Architects and Landscape Architects Association of Puerto Rico, the Social Work Professionals Association, Espacios Abiertos, the Puerto Rico Healthcare Professionals Association, Puerto Rico Sea Grant, the Hispanic Federation, Earthjustice, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America and the Sunrise Movement, among many others that supported the initiative.