CEO of Puerto Rico’s Power Company to Resign Amid Outages

Aug 3, 2020
2:15 PM

José Ortiz in 2018 (Photo by Gabriel López Albarrán | Centro de Periodismo Investigativo)

By DÁNICA COTO, Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The CEO of Puerto Rico’s state-owned power company is resigning as thousands of clients remain without electricity since last week’s tropical storm that further weakened a grid still trying to recover from previous hurricanes and earthquakes, officials said Monday.

José Ortiz is expected to step down on Wednesday amid widespread anger and impatience with ongoing power outages that are occurring during a pandemic, at the height of what is expected to be an unusually active hurricane season as hundreds of thousands of parents prepare for the start of a virtual school year.

“It’s irresponsible and a lack of respect that a simple storm unleashed the chaos we have now,” said Natalia Núñez, who lives in San Juan and has been without power since Thursday.

Many Puerto Ricans also are dissatisfied with how the Electric Power Authority handled recent outages including one last week that was not storm-related and left more than 300,000 customers without power. Then Isaias swiped the island as a tropical storm, leaving more than 400,000 more clients in the dark. By Monday afternoon, more than 20,000 customers were still without power.

“That is not normal,” Walberto Rolón, a secretary for UTIER, a power workers’ union, told The Associated Press. “We don’t have employees or suitable equipment… this is something that can be fixed.”

Rolón and others celebrated Ortiz’s upcoming resignation, accusing him and other company officials of improvising as outages continue.

Gov. Wanda Vázquez said the announcement comes after she met with the president of the power company’s board to demand it take all necessary action as she questioned the outages and the way officials handled the storm.

Ortiz had become the company’s third CEO in two weeks when he was appointed to the position in July 2018 as the island struggled to recover from a lack of leadership, bankruptcy and outages caused by Hurricane Maria. He said on Monday that at the time he committed to the position for two years.

“My resignation comes at an appropriate moment in the transformation of PREPA into the modern electric utility all Puerto Ricans deserve,” Ortiz said in a statement.

Last week, Ortiz blamed the outage prior to the storm on what he said was sabotage or human error, saying it was done manually. However, the company’s head of transmission and distribution disputed that conclusion, saying it was too early to say what happened.

Meanwhile, the company’s 1.5 million customers grow increasingly exasperated with the ongoing outages. Among them is Laura Mejía, a mother of two who lives in an impoverished neighborhood and was forced to throw out food when she was left without power for three days a week before Isaias skirted the island.

“We spent three days without sleep,” she said, noting that recent heat indexes have surpassed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. “We were incommunicados and didn’t even have a fan because we don’t have a generator.”