The struggles of power in Puerto Rico
Battery-powered fans, voltage surge protectors in outlets, gasoline power plants. The struggles of Puerto Rico with its electric grid have been written about for years, but in recent months, the situation has worsened. Power outages have become a daily occurrence, one that has transformed lives for countless residents across the US territory, which recently transferred its electrical grid and distribution to American-Canadian consortium LUMA Energy.
While the new company has only handled the distribution of power in the islands for a few months, locals have noticed a worsening situation—and they are tired. “LUMA has us crazy,” says William González González, 89, an Añasco resident, and my grandfather. “The other day they had us without power for 22 hours, it’s insane.”
I’m in Puerto Rico for my youngest brother’s wedding and on the day of the rehearsal dinner the power goes out. My mother goes into a frenzy, she has a gasoline power plant, but it only lasts 6 hours, and she’s hosting our extended family later this evening. The timing for the outage couldn’t be worse for her. But the truth is we’re lucky, we have some backup—for others, the situation is far direr.
An old problem with new symptoms
The source of the problems is a complex one: aging infrastructure, long-delayed maintenance work, and a deeply indebted utility that struggled for years to provide reliable service. The contract with LUMA was supposed to bring in funding for repairs and upgrades, but in its immediate aftermath, it has resulted in an energy crisis for Puerto Rico, higher rates, and general discontent that spurred a manifestation from fed-up consumers.
A cursory glance at LUMA’s social media feeds reveals a constant turnover of power outages throughout the territory: Carolina, Vega Baja, Mayagüez. The notifications often just indicate an outage, without providing context as to the cause, or when residents could expect service to be restored.
And the situation shows no signs of improving.
Estimates indicate it could take a decade for Puerto Rico’s electric infrastructure to be repaired, and that’s without the possibility of any disasters that could further delay any improvements; disasters that have become more common in recent years. Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the earthquakes along the southern coast, the decades-long financial crisis—the unincorporated territory seemingly can’t catch a break.
While federal dollars are now flowing in—years after they were supposed to—there is no end in sight for the plight of the 3.2 million American citizens that reside in Puerto Rico. Even as Democratic legislators push for accountability, it’s anyone’s guess as to when the situation will improve.
For now, I have to go, my mother is making me clean the chairs for the guests coming later, and you don’t need electricity for that I guess.