NY Lawmakers, PR Activists Join to End LUMA Contract

Nov 14, 2022
4:12 PM

New York lawmakers and local activists gather outside the headquarters of LUMA Energy to protest the against company and the possible extension of its government contract, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Thursday, November 10, 2022. (Courtesy of Tiffany Cabán/Twitter)

SAN JUAN — Puerto Rican legislators from New York and local activist groups gathered in Puerto Rico on Thursday to repudiate the Puerto Rican government’s contract with LUMA Energy and ask Gov. Pedro Pierluisi not to grant the company control over the archipelago’s electrical system for the next 15 years.

“The people of Puerto Rico and the diaspora in the United States have been very clear in transmitting a resounding message: LUMA has to go,” said New York City Councilmembers Alexa Avilés (D-Brooklyn), born in Bayamón, and Tiffany Cabán (D-Queens).

LUMA Energy, a U.S.-Canadian consortium, controls the transmission, repair, and distribution of Puerto Rico’s electrical grid. While many politicians promised that bringing the private company to the island would fix its ailing power grid, the public’s experience has been exceedingly poor, with notable increases in the duration and frequency of power outages.

The coalition —formed by Power 4 Puerto Rico, Vamos Puerto Rico, Todos Somos Pueblo, Boricuas Unidos en la Diaspora (BUDPR) and Coalicion Para El Pensamiento Energetico (COPE)— hopes that by banding together it can force Gov. Pierluisi and the Public-Private Partnership Program (APPPR) to cancel LUMA’s contract once it expires on November 30.

The current LUMA contract collectively costs Puerto Rico $115 million per year.

“The governor has to fulfill his ministerial function of protecting and serving the best interests of the people,” said former NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

For his part, Gov. Pierluisi has previously said that canceling the LUMA contract and returning control to the publicly-owned Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) would be “horror movie,” and that the process to cancel the LUMA contract would be “long and expensive.”

“The narrative that the world is going to end without this private enterprise, to which we pay millions of dollars for a service that can’t even be called mediocre, represents the lack of vision and will from our leaders,” lawyer Jessica Méndez Colberg of COPE said.

Méndez Colberg, who also represents the Electrical Industry and Irrigation Workers Union retirees in the PREPA debt litigation, emphasized that LUMA’s contract would not be “automatically extended” once their initial contract runs out, but that the government would actively have to negotiate a provisionary extension because LUMA’s own contract stipulates it cannot enter into the 15-year contract before PREPA has a debt adjustment plan.

According to the legal calendar set by U.S. District Court Judge Laura Taylor Swain, who presides over the PREPA debt case, there wouldn’t be an adjustment plan ready until at least the summer of 2023, if at all.

If the current contract is extended, the APPPR would have to request an extension to the contract for an unspecified amount of time, likely until the PREPA adjustment plan is finalized.

“The governor has reiterated the importance of continuing to advance in the transformation of our energy system, which is already underway,” said Pierluisi’s press secretary, Sheila Anglero.

“If the governor extends the contract, they will be responsible for LUMA’s mess and the damages that, without a doubt, the people will suffer,” Méndez Colberg said.

Alongside ending the contract, demostrators voiced their opposition to returning control of Puerto Rico’s power grid to PREPA, preferring instead a depoliticized and decentralized energy system based on renewables that responds to the interests of the public.

They also see investment in green energy as imperative, given a law that requires Puerto Rico’s energy sources to be 40 percent renewable by the year 2025.

As it stands, only three percent of Puerto Rico’s energy production comes from renewables.


Carlos Edill Berríos Polanco is the Caribbean correspondent for Latino Rebels, based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Twitter: @Vaquero2XL