SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Thousands of residents of Puerto Rico have experienced widespread blackouts, Long service recovery times, poor customer service and voltage fluctuations Which often caused damage to appliances and other home electronics as Luma Energy partially took over the island’s electric grid over the summer.
Congress and lawmakers in the US region are now seeking specific answers from Luma Energy, which has a contract to do transmission and distribution for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, that may indicate why the power crisis is worsening. Hike in electricity prices and unreliable service.
In an interview with NBC News, Luma Energy CEO Wayne Stansby said that “by almost any measure, Puerto Rico has the worst-performing electricity system in the United States.”
“So, every day we’re out there, we’re making it better step by step,” he said. “I think the biggest challenge is the speed at which we can actually drive real improvements for our customers.”
Despite the challenge, Stainsby said he was confident that power supply crisis “Month after month and year after year will get better.”
But that promise has been questioned after Puerto Rico began experiencing a growing number of rolling blackouts, which worsened between August and September.
‘Working is getting difficult’
Puerto Ricans like Brenda Otero, who owns a bakery near San Juan, have seen their electricity bills increase by about 33 percent this year. And just last week, her business lost $1,000 as a result of frequent blackouts and power outages.
“Working and paying store bills is getting harder, and we want to keep working,” she said.
In a letter sent to Stainsby on Friday, the US House Committee on Natural Resources requested access to critical information, including the number of workers experienced to repair damaged power lines, as well as compensation packages and employee titles. , who earn more than this. $200,000 per year, among other figures.
The committee, which oversees US regional affairs, said the information would help it better monitor Luma Energy’s work as the private company took over the transmission and distribution of electricity as part of the partial privatization of the power grid in June. Was.
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, a public corporation, remains in charge of controlling the power generation units.
Later Hurricane Maria destroyed the island’s old electrical grid in 2017. – triggering World’s second longest blackout – The Power Authority has struggled to keep the lights on for Puerto Ricans. Additionally, corruption and mismanagement within the ruling authority contributed to the island’s decadent financial crisis by raising $9 billion in public debt, more than any other government agency in Puerto Rico.
Otero said she remembers frequent service interruptions after Maria, “but we knew it was a hurricane that shut everything down, but now we don’t have a hurricane, and it’s worse now.” “
The Committee on Natural Resources sent its letter to Stainsby over the course of two days when he refused or gave incomplete answers to some questions. congressional surveillance hearing Organized by the committee last week.
Some of the financial information being requested by Congress is generally available through Securities and Exchange Commission filings, documents that public companies are required to file from time to time. These documents are not publicly available for Luma Energy.
The island’s House of Representatives member Luis Ral Torres Cruz, who heads the Energy Commission, sued Luma Energy over the summer to get the same information Congress is seeking.
Torres Cruz told NBC News in Spanish, “Luma has refused to give us any information and, instead, has started the appeals process in court.”
As part of the appeals process, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed Luma Energy’s second petition for not disclosing information requested by Puerto Rican lawmakers.
In a lengthy statement, Luma Energy responded to the decision, saying, “No company is compelled to disclose the identities and salaries of its employees, trade secrets, sensitive operating and infrastructure information without a legislatively legitimate purpose.” Even more so, without complying with applicable law and due process,” it added, “will have an opportunity of defending itself and raising objections when the matter is resumed before the Court of First Instance.”
On Friday, the Electricity Authority declared a state of emergency due to “critical condition“Its production power plants.
William Rios, an energy production director for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, said the largest power plant in the San Juan area, known as Palo Seco, has been facing shutdowns almost every week for the past few months.
Boiler steam leaks have forced the electricity authority to shut down the power plant. Whenever this happens, the unit is taken out of service for a few days. The issue has happened at least 10 times in recent weeks, he said.
Other issues causing blackouts include clogging of seaweed in the water filter for the condenser.
“Over the past few months, we have been doing practically weekly shutdowns of the unit, but when the unit is stable, we can keep the unit in service for months,” he said.
Rios said the blackouts have made it clear that Puerto Rico’s old power grid, built in the 1960s, is hanging by a thread. In order to modernize the grid and improve power generation, it is imperative to replace parts of the damaged boilers in Palo Seco as well as power plants throughout the island.
“It’s going to get better,” he said, “but fundamentally, unless we make substantial improvements in the quantity and or quality of generation, it’s going to be difficult.”
Nicole Acevedo reported from New York. Gabe Gutierrez and Olympia Sonnier reported from Puerto Rico.