A year before Hurricane Maria shut off power, there was a total blackout in Puerto Rico

by | Sep 21, 2017 | Headlines, Puerto Rico | Comments

As a stark reminder of the delicate state of Puerto Rico’s electric infrastructure, we are reminded that exactly one year ago, on September 21, 2016 Puerto Rico was also under a total electric blackout. Back then however, the cause was not a hurricane, but the poor state of the transmission lines, which failed and shut down the electric generation units.

The electric blackout in 2016 cause widespread chaos, and even cause a fire in one of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s complexes in Salinas.

The blackout lasted until the next day, when the 1.5 million PREPA customers started getting power back, in an incident that garnered national attention. CNN was among the major outlets to report on the incident:

About 12 hours into the blackout power had been restored to just over 130,000 customers, Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla said Thursday morning.
That still left about a third of the population without power.
AEE said the blackout began late Wednesday after a fire at its Aguirre power plant.
Fire Chief Angel Crespo said a power switch got overheated, causing a 2,000-gallon mineral oil tank to explode. Fire spread over a 3-acre area before firefighters managed to put it out.
The power outage also shut off water service for about 340,000 people, the governor said.

The blackout was a consequence of Puerto Rico’s long running economic crisis, which had been affecting all aspects of daily life on the debt-stricken islands. In fact, earlier this year, PREPA effectively filed for bankruptcy after it could not handle making payments on $9 billion of debt, while maintaining operations.

As the US territory now faces the prospect of rebuilding and repairing its electrical grid after the devastating Hurricane Maria, the prospects of a quick recovery are grim. After all, the electrical system of Puerto Rico was already failing on its own.