Puerto Rico governor publicly criticizes private company for power outages

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico’s governor on Thursday denounced the private company his administration hired to take over the island’s power transmission and distribution system amid a recent spike in blackouts which outraged many people in the United States.

This is the first time Governor Pedro Pierluisi has publicly criticized Luma Energy – a consortium made up of Calgary, Alta.-based Atco and Houston-based Quanta Services Inc. – despite street protests and network calls. social services for Pierluisi to cancel Luma’s 15th birthday. contract which started in June 2021.

“I’m not happy with Luma’s performance,” said Pierluisi, who had previously championed and praised the company. “It is obvious to me that you need to make changes to your execution plan to significantly improve the service you provide to our employees.”

Luma spokesman Eliezer Soto said the company would hold a press conference later to discuss the ongoing outages.

Luma’s roughly 1.5 million customers have been hit by power outages that have worsened in recent months and forced some businesses to close because they cannot afford to run generators on expensive fuel. One of Puerto Rico’s largest hospitals was left without power last week when one of its generators failed in the middle of an outage.

Luma and Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority blamed aging infrastructure, lack of maintenance, bad weather, sargassum and even an iguana for the power outages. Officials also point out that they are working with a system that was just rebuilt after Hurricane Maria flattened the power grid in US territory in September 2017.

Pierluisi said that was no excuse.

“While I recognize that the power grid we have is fragile and outdated, it is Luma’s responsibility to operate it in the critical and emergency state it finds itself in,” he said. .

Substation fires have become increasingly common, and Puerto Ricans have posted videos of crackling and sizzling equipment on social media, along with photos of what they say are absurdly high electricity bills. . Seven electricity rate increases requested by Luma have been approved by the Puerto Rico Energy Board this year alone.

“There is no government action to address these issues,” said José Luis Dalmau, president of Puerto Rico’s Senate and a member of the main opposition party. “It is unacceptable that in the face of this chaos, the governor is alienated from the reality that people are living.”

Puerto Rico’s energy office on Wednesday announced an investigation into a power outage that affected some 250,000 customers and resulted in a 25% loss in overall energy generated.

“To the extent that LUMA and the Authority (of power) fail, and they argue over who is to blame, it will be up to us (…) to assign blame and demand improvement” , the office said.

‘It’s not OK’

Among those affected by Wednesday’s outage was Jacqueline Santiago, who lives along Puerto Rico’s southern coast.

“It happens all the time,” she said, adding that people in her neighborhood have lost microwaves, fridges and TVs to the constant power outages and fluctuations. “We are incredibly frustrated.”

Santiago said she was delighted that Pierluisi spoke out against Luma, but thinks he had no other choice: “With what face is he going to continue to defend them?”

In addition to intermittent blackouts, Puerto Rico was hit by an island-wide blackout in April, which authorities blamed on a fire at a main power plant.

The surge in outages is of concern to many who note that the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season is approaching, with meteorologists forecasting an unusually busy seventh straight season.

Julia Nazario, mayor of the northern coastal town of Loiza, said some neighborhoods have seen blackouts every day over the past week: “It’s not OK.”

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