Puerto Rico one year later: Shedding light on the stalled repairs of electric grid

Global Business

With more than 100 days without electricity, analysts have called it the longest blackout in U.S. history. More than three billion customer hours lost.

Last month, Puerto Rico’s Power Energy and Electric Authority said it took almost one year to restore service to the entire island.

A claim, that doesn’t hold true in remote areas of Puerto Rico. In the municipality of Las Piedras, in the eastern central part of this U.S. territory, they have a different story.

CGTN’s Nitza Soledad Perez reports.

Jose Santana is still waiting.

“That cable that you see up there, that’s the cable that provides energy to our transformer. It’s cut. The power system from the electrical system is disconnected. We have no power.”

This community of twelve residences is off the power grid. In the midwest part of the island another town reveals a power grid that is barely functional.

“As soon as it starts raining, we switch to the generator. We lost power at noon. The generator has been on since then,” says Alma Leticia Pagan, administrator of a public clinic in the town of Adjuntas. “I hope this wouldn’t happen. We have certain cases here that we cannot have the generator failing on us. I mean, that’s a machine. We put the lives of our patients in danger, but I guess we have to deal with what we have.”

That same day, the power came back later that night. We asked Puerto Rico’s Energy and Power Authority chief executive officer, how would you describe the status of the electrical grid of the island. Jose Ortiz is the fifth person to occupy the position since last November.

“At this moment is pretty strong on the transmission side so the high voltages, to me that part is ok.On the distribution that is closer to the customers, to me that’s weaker. We had a lot of patches, just to bring the energy back to the people of Puerto Rico. Now we have to go back and redo that part again.”

Puerto Rico’s electric company had no materials to repair the system after Hurricane Maria. Part of the problem, the company was already over $9 billion debt before the storm hit.

“We have more inventory, we have 400 employees basically, specialized employees from North American companies, helping still in the reparation of the redundancy lines, so we have more people, more inventory, we have a stronger transmission and now we are redoing the patches.” Ortiz is confident, that a year long blackout will not happen again.

“I can tell you that we will end up having the same immediate result, probably everybody with a power outage, let’s assume the worst, but I can tell you that we can recover, in a third of the time it took last time.”

The company says it has a two-year recovery plan that will cost over $20 billion. They will privatize the transmission and client services of the company and incorporate natural gas and solar panels as energy sources.

But two years is a long time and some local residents are finding their own ways to deal with the power outages, with some relying on generators. Others like, Jose Santana and his community are relying on renewable energy provided by Tesla.

Last year, the U.S. electric car and battery maker pledged to help restore power to the hurricane-battered island. Tesla introduced a pilot program that provides electricity through solar panels.

For them that’s the future. Local residents here have also installed a switcher allowing them to alternate from solar power to the island’s electric grid.