Positive Signs for Puerto Rico’s Power Grid
More than three years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the island is still struggling to recover. Not only was it the deadliest natural disaster in the last century, the storm was also the third costliest hurricane on record.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t gotten much easier for Puerto Ricans since then. At the end of 2019, multiple earthquakes struck the island and caused significant damage. In the wake of these earthquakes, I visited Puerto Rico and met with then-Governor Wanda Vazquez and Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez to discuss and support the response to the emergency on the island.
A few months later, COVID-19 and the global pandemic stopped any sign of recovery in its tracks. The head of Puerto Rico’s tourism promotion agency estimated that COVID-19 would actually have a bigger impact on the local tourism industry than the hurricane.
After my visit, I worked as part of a bipartisan effort to convince the Trump Administration to provide additional assistance to Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, President Trump repeatedly took actions that hindered the island’s recovery.
One of the biggest challenges that Puerto Rico has faced is rebuilding the island’s power grid, which was completely destroyed by Hurricane Maria. It took nearly a year to restore power to every home on the island. Efforts over the past couple of years have just fallen short. However, there is finally a positive sign for Puerto Ricans. Last year, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) chose LUMA Energy as part of a competitive bidding process to participate in a public-private partnership to transform the island’s electrical grid.
Under the agreement, LUMA will manage and operate Puerto Rico’s electrical grid for PREPA, which retains ownership over the system. This new arrangement will improve the island’s energy reliability and help protect customers.
Puerto Ricans deserve a power grid that will finally allow the island to not only recover completely from the recent natural disasters but will actually be better and more reliable. Small businesses in Puerto Rico should not have to worry about whether or not they can open because there may not be power to operate, a reality that many face today. At the end of 2020, PREPA was ranked last in customer service among public utilities across the United States. That just isn’t good enough, Puerto Ricans deserve better and changes need to be made.
Many Puerto Ricans have expressed a strong desire for an energy infrastructure that is strong, reliable, and will stand up to future natural disasters. An overwhelming 93 percent said that energy prices were too high and 60 percent of Puerto Rico residents indicated that they would support privatizing PREPA, if it would mean lower rates.
In February, LUMA announced that it would not increase rates for at least three years and LUMA has committed publicly to hiring local workers and residents. The company has said that it would prioritize PREPA employees in hiring and those employees would be able to keep their pensions. As part of its commitment on jobs and grid improvement, LUMA announced that it would build a new training facility on the island.
The benefits of this public private partnership simply outweigh the negatives. I would encourage critics to look at the potential of what this could mean for Puerto Ricans. They deserve a secure, reliable power grid, affordable rates, good jobs, and better customer service and satisfaction.
William Lacy Clay served as the U.S. Representative from Missouri’s 1st Congressional District from 2001 to 2021.