- More than 1 million customers in Puerto Rico were still without power Wednesday morning, days after Hurricane Fiona devastated the island’s infrastructure and damaged transmission lines as a category 1 storm.
- Luma Energy, which manages the island’s energy system, said Tuesday it had dispatched a crew of more than 2,000 utility workers to repair the grid and had already restored power to almost 300,000 customers.
- Damage assessments are continuing, officials say, with reports of ruined homes, bridges and roads. Advocacy groups fear a repeat of 2017, when the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria was widely seen as inadequate, and they say more must be done to develop climate-resilient infrastructure.
The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency was in Puerto Rico on Tuesday to assess damage from Hurricane Fiona, almost exactly five years after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
“We're sending hundreds of additional personnel in the next few days to place staff in each of the affected communities to supplement our already vast footprint,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said in a statement.
Luma on Tuesday said it had restored power to more than 299,000 customers, including a children’s hospital in San Juan, the island’s capital.
The utility is “deeply aware of the painful memories from Hurricane Maria, and the lasting effect it has had on the electric grid,” Luma Public Safety Manager Abner Gómez said in a statement.
Advocates for Puerto Rico and the environment say the federal government must do more than it did in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which destroyed Puerto Rico’s grid. FEMA’s after-action report following the 2017 storm season concluded that it needed to improve its planning process and response.
“We cannot let history repeat itself,” Luis Martinez, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean energy program, said in a statement. “Hurricane Maria should have been a warning, not a foreshadow, of the catastrophic impacts extreme weather conditions will have on the island and other frontline communities across the U.S.”
“It is unacceptable that five years after hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is still in such precarious situation,” Environmental Defense Fund Senior Director of Caribbean Initiatives Daniel Whittle said, adding that more focus should be placed on modernizing Puerto Rico’s electric grid.
“The current energy crisis is dire, and Puerto Ricans and the island’s economy are still taking a hit,” Whittle said.
Alongside the immediate humanitarian response in Puerto Rico, Martinez said, advocates “must also push for climate-resilient infrastructure to safeguard the island and its residents in the long-term,” including distributed solar resources.
Puerto Rico has a goal to use 100% renewable energy by 2050, and efforts are underway to modernize the island’s grid, add storage and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Luma Energy began operating Puerto Rico’s electric grid last year, managing the system through a public-private partnership while the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, continues to own the island’s grid assets.
Luma has said it expects to save customers millions of dollars by operating the grid more efficiently, but it has faced criticism for frequent blackouts. The Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis in July said customers are now paying 33.4 cents/kWh for electricity — nearly double the rate they paid just two years ago.
IEEFA has been critical of efforts to overhaul Puerto Rico’s grid, saying a more rapid transformation from fossil fuels would save consumers money and improve resilience.
“The only way to stabilize rates and PREPA’s budget over the medium to long term is to aggressively invest in renewable energy and to use billions of dollars of available federal funds to transition to a more resilient, renewable-based grid,” IEEFA said in its July report.