By DÁNICA COTO, Associated Press
SAN JUAN (AP) — The U.S. government announced Tuesday that it will provide Puerto Rico with temporary electric generation via barges to help in restoring the island’s storm-devastated power grid and ease repeated widespread outages.
The move will allow crews to take equipment such as substations, transformers, and breakers offline for long-needed repairs that are expected to take anywhere from 12 to 18 months, said Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi. It will also provide a boost to a system whose generation capacity has long been waning.
“We know the grid is in a critical state,” he said. “We cannot endure these outages.”
The move is part of a deal reached last month with the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, which agreed to help the U.S. territory stabilize a power system that was razed by Hurricane María in 2017 and pummeled again by Hurricane Fiona in September.
Nancy Casper, FEMA federal coordinator, said additional generation of 600 to 700 megawatts will be available in two to three months via barges and temporary land-based generators.
She said the federal government would pay for 90 percent of the project and Puerto Rico’s government the remaining 10 percent, but that no estimated cost is yet available because teams will reach out to vendors by the end of November.
The announcement was expected to quell some of the anger and frustration building up across the island of 3.2 million people whose lives have been increasingly disrupted by lengthy power outages.
The latest outage occurred on Monday, leaving 178,000 customers in the dark for reasons unknown. Previous outages have been blamed on exploding transformers, iguanas, sargassum, and aging infrastructure.
Puerto Rico’s power grid was already crumbling due to decades of mismanagement and neglect when Hurricane María hit in November 2017 and destroyed most of the grid.
It took a year to patch the system back together, but actual long-term reconstruction work started just a couple of months ago. FEMA has set aside nearly $10 billion for the work, but only $183 million in projects have been approved.
Hurricane Fiona caused further damage when it hit Puerto Rico’s southwest coast in September, once again knocking out power to the whole island. LUMA Energy, a private company that has faced sharp criticism since taking over transmission and distribution of power last year, estimates the storm caused $4 billion in damages.
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm recently visited Puerto Rico twice in less than two weeks and warned of various “critical failures.”