San Juan, Puerto Rico — Ongoing power outages and threats from the Puerto Rico government prompted a company that operates the island’s transmission and distribution system to announce Wednesday that it will dedicate more resources and crews to improving service.
The move came just hours after the U.S. territory’s Senate launched a hearing to analyze the government‘s contract with Luma Energy – a consortium made up of Calgary, Alberta-based Atco and Houston-based Quanta Services Inc. – amid calls to cancel it.
Among the senior officials demanding that the government revoke the contract are Puerto Rico’s Senate President José Luis Dalmau, of the main opposition party, and Jenniffer González, Puerto Rico’s representative in Congress and member of the governor’s party, who has declared that power cuts had become “Our daily bread.”
Luma said on Wednesday he would increase response brigades by 25% over the next month, clear vegetation covering 20 of the most critical transmission lines, increase inspections of substations – eight of which caught fire during the of the past year – and would increase aerial inspections of remote transmission lines.
“We made mistakes. We recognize our flaws,” said Duke Austin, president and CEO of Quanta Services.
He said Luma cut outage times by a third, but added the company could do better.
“I don’t ask for forgiveness or patience,” he said. “I’m out of both myself.”
Luma pointed out that it was a power grid that the local government neglected to maintain for decades and was flattened by Hurricane Maria in September 2017, with reconstruction efforts beginning a few years ago. barely months. Prior to Luma, Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority, which has more than $9 billion in debt, handled transmission and distribution for the grid.
The ongoing blackouts have angered many who note that power fluctuations have fried expensive devices and forced them to find alternatives to keep life-saving medicines cool, as the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau approved seven electricity rate increases so far this year at the request of Luma.
A day before Luma’s announcement, Governor Pedro Pierluisi said the company would face consequences if it did not improve its service, although he did not provide details on what measures he would take. would take.
“Time is running out and my patience is running out,” he said. “Basically they have to act, and act with a sense of urgency.”
Pierluisi spoke out against Luma for the first time last Thursday, a turnaround for a governor who had consistently defended the company since the start of his contract in June 2021. He said he got upset last week after learning that a recent outage was the result of not pruning vegetation around a main transmission line.
“It’s completely unacceptable,” he said.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s Bureau of Energy released a report late last week noting that there has been an overall increase in outage duration per customer each month since January, lasting more than 21 hours at a time. Also, he said there was no improvement in the frequency of interruptions.
The bureau gave Luma and the Electric Power Authority of Puerto Rico until September 1 to explain the drop in these and other metrics, as it threatened to impose sanctions.