Puerto Rico isn’t ready for hurricane season

[Many thanks to David Lewis for bringing this item to our attention.] Gloria González, Deputy Energy Editor at POLITICO Pro., reports on Puerto Rico’s power grid and the upcoming hurricane season. Here are excerpts; for full article, see POLITICO.

[. . .] Those of us who love baseball also got to enjoy a thrilling World Baseball Classic. And although Puerto Rico fell short of the title, the team’s run to the quarterfinals was a source of immense pride — and a temporary distraction from very real challenges on the territory, including the fragility of the power grid.

The grid survived the winter months with no major disruptions after Hurricane Fiona knocked out electricity across Puerto Rico last year. In the six months since Fiona hit, an intense effort has been underway to shore up the power grid against outages and accelerate the territory’s transition to renewable energy.

But fears persist that Puerto Rico’s power system will not be ready for the coming hurricane season and that its 3.3 million inhabitants will once again face life-or-death situations from devastating blackouts.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, whom President Joe Biden tapped last year to lead the federal government’s efforts to modernize the grid, knows this is a very real risk.

You’ll get a twice-weekly breakdown of how race and identity are the DNA of American politics and policy. “Will the grid be totally ready for the next hurricane season? In all candor, it will not,” Granholm told POLITICO. “But, will it be better than it was last time? Will there be a quicker response than there was last time? That’s exactly what we are all striving for, that people will not be without power for months.”

Years of underinvestment and poor maintenance have left the grid vulnerable to weather disasters, which frequently cause blackouts. But in 2017, Hurricane Maria caused unprecedented destruction when it roared ashore, killing almost 3,000 people and plunging parts of the territory into blackouts that lasted nearly a year.

And last September, Fiona left thousands of residents in the southern and southwestern areas without power for 12 days while other parts of the territory experienced intermittent outages.

But even if the power grid remains intact, Puerto Ricans living on the island will likely face another problem: rising electricity bills. That’s because a federal judge is weighing a proposed plan to end the government-owned utility’s bankruptcy — even though they already pay more on average for electricity than any U.S. state except for Hawaii.

Ruth Santiago, an environmental attorney in Puerto Rico and a member of a coalition named Queremos Sol — We Want Solar — fears that the expected price hikes for unreliable electricity in Puerto Rico will continue to propel Puerto Ricans out of the territory.

In 2018, the year after Maria, the number of residents moving to the mainland United States rose by 37 percent from the prior year.

“It’s going to keep pushing people out of Puerto Rico,” Santiago said. [. . .]

Robert Mujica, executive director of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico — the federal entity overseeing the territory’s finances, commonly known as La Junta — said the frustration Puerto Ricans have over rising power bills is understandable.

But Mujica, who was previously the longtime budget director for former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said affordability was a “critically important” factor in the board’s plan. It would dramatically cut costs by reducing the utility’s debt, he said, and end the bankruptcy while protecting the lowest-income people from escalating power bills. [. . .]

For full article, see https://www.politico.com/newsletters/the-recast/2023/03/28/puerto-rico-power-grid-hurricane-season-00087396

[Photo above by Jose Jimenez/Getty Images. Members of a brigade of the company LUMA work restoring energy in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona on Sept. 20, 2022, in San Juan.]

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