PREPA workers launch 24-hour strike to protest LUMA contract

By The Star Staff

Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) workers are slated to go on strike to protest the imminent takeover of PREPA’s transmission and distribution system by the private operator LUMA Energy, which according to testimony presented before the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau (PREB) appears to be unprepared for the job.

Besides reportedly not having completed an emergency response plan to take over the utility on June 1, the start of the hurricane season, LUMA Energy has yet to draft procedures for operating the system. The information came out during hearings this week into LUMA’s proposed system operation principles (SOPs).

According to LUMA, the SOPs define how the bulk power system will operate in different situations such as outages.

When LUMA officials made their presentation this week they only spoke of the principles that will govern the SOP and not on the specific protocols for specific areas of operation, a cause of concern among PREB commissioners.

Lorraine Akiba, a PREB consultant, noted that LUMA Energy sees the SOP as describing the policies and objectives of transmission while the procedures are to define how the system operating principles will be implemented. But she criticized the utility for failing to provide specific procedures during its presentation.

“Much of what has been outlined to the Bureau basically says you will be developing procedures during the service period. … It is very unusual,” she said, adding that the industry practice is for the utility to have principles and procedures worked out in advance. “What procedures have you worked on today? If they are not available today, when will they be available?” she said.

Akiba said PREB will not be able to ascertain transparency and accountability without the procedures in place.

Brian Walshe, an adviser to LUMA Energy, said LUMA will have the procedures “shortly” consisting of a very comprehensive document. He said LUMA Energy will have 14 procedures for different areas by June 1 that include procedures for plan level agreement; critical loads; emergency response execution; generation and transmission, demarcation and metering; policy on reserves; energy dispatch; blackstart; public reporting; contingency and system operation limits; balancing frequency and voltage; forced outage response; resource adequacy assessment; and generation interconnection agreements.

Under the contract, LUMA, a subsidiary of Quanta Services and ATCO, will initially be paid $70 million followed by $90 million for the second year of operation and $100 million the third year. LUMA will receive $105 million for each of the remaining years, with a possible $20 million in bonuses.

During the one-year front end transition period that began in June 2020, for which LUMA was paid some $135 million, LUMA officials said they spent the time doing an assessment of the utility.

Meanwhile, PREPA’s largest union, the Electrical Industry and Irrigation Workers Union, is staging a 24-hour strike today to protest the contract, arguing that it is costly and does not recognize their collective bargaining agreement. Most of PREPA’s workers who did not apply for jobs with LUMA Energy will be sent to other public agencies. PREPA announced that it has implemented contingency measures to ensure service is not impacted during the work stoppage.