Saying LUMA ‘has failed’ at the peak of hurricane season, lawmakers urge governor approve shelters
By Alejandra M. Jover Tovar
Special to The Star
Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Reps. Ángel Matos García, Lydia Méndez Silva and Luis “Narmito” Ortiz Lugo held a press conference Sunday in which they charged that the private consortium LUMA Energy -- which is in charge of the electric power transmission and distribution system on the island -- is not ready for the peak of hurricane season.
Given that reality, they are asking that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia approve House Bill (HB) 299, which creates at least six full-time shelters (by region) where people can go and have their energy needs met.
As for the preparation for the season, Matos García said “the government of Puerto Rico announced to the country 90 days ago that we were ready.”
“Today, as the peak begins and with the National Hurricane Center watching two systems heading toward the Caribbean, we have to ask ourselves if we are ready,” he said. “LUMA Energy has reneged on its commitment to maintaining an electrical system.”
Last May 27, LUMA President & CEO Wayne Stensby assured power customers that the private consortium was ready to handle any emergency; however, in recent days, the company accepted that it lacks the necessary personnel to carry out maintenance and repair work on lines and poles, to clear vegetation and for the efficient operation of the electrical substations.
“The blackouts, service interruptions, and the chaotic situation we have experienced in recent weeks with our energy system, with only light and sporadic rains, show that LUMA and the government lied to the country when they said they were ready to handle any event that impacts us during the hurricane season,” said Matos García, the majority spokesman in the island House of Representatives.
Ortiz Lugo added that “we have a citizenry that is mostly elderly.”
“There is a large group of elderly people who are bedridden, and the pandemic has not gone away,” he said. “Therefore, I urge the governor to approve House Bill 299 to build regional shelters with everything they need because we cannot depend on the country’s electrical system. LUMA has to go because it’s useless.”
HB 299 has been in the works since 2002, said Méndez Silva, who has asked that it be approved.
“I didn’t care which government [led by which party] implemented it. What’s important is that Puerto Ricans have the quality of life they deserve,” she said. “Thankfully, the bill’s on its way to the governor, and we ask him to sign it to guarantee the health, safety, and quality of life of people.”
The bill proposes at least six full-time shelters in retrofitted buildings that have been out of use. The buildings would have electrical plants, cisterns, and all the equipment the citizenry needs to keep safe in an emergency. Also, the legislators propose that the shelters operate year-round, using the spaces for training and other municipal matters. The shelters must comply with applicable local and federal laws. They would be administered by the Bureau of Emergency Management and Disaster Administration.
Méndez Silva also pointed out that “on Thursday, while the first demonstration [against LUMA Energy] was taking place, Guánica had been without electricity from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.!”
“You have to remember the meetings when [former island secretary of state] Larry Seilhamer was in charge. I asked if LUMA guaranteed that the vegetation management employees and linemen from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) would be part of their workforce,” she said. “They are the ones who know the system; Puerto Rico is not just plains; it has mountains. The government cannot be bringing in contractors who do not know our island.”
“The government has to have an alternative in case of a general blackout, a storm, a hurricane, the earthquakes themselves … an alternative that allows us to supply energy,” Méndez Silva said. “In 2002, we talked about the fact that Puerto Rico had no community centers or obvious and safe facilities for our people. It took 20 years, and we implore the governor to address House Bill 299, which creates a full-time shelter system.”
She added, “we urge the governor to face the country and to meet with LUMA to go over the list of shelters ready for the peak of hurricane season.
“We don’t want the list of purchased cots, diesel, or supplies,” Méndez Silva said. “Where’s the coherent plan to maintain the Medical Center with power? Let’s have the orchestrated plan.”