The federal government will take another step on Monday toward unlocking nearly $ 2 billion to fix Puerto Rico’s ailing power grid, which is part of a pool of money held back on the island for years even then. that she was struggling to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development will issue a federal registry notice for $ 1.93 billion in electricity grid funding, outlining the rules and regulations governing its use.
The money is intended to help make electricity more resilient to storms and climate change, as well as emitting less carbon dioxide. It also requires the island government to explain how it will ensure that the money reaches marginalized and underserved populations.
âWe think this will really kick-start some of the conversations that are already taking place on the island around the future of the power system and ensure that it is not only resilient to the next storm, but contributes less to climate change than it does. ‘before,’ said a HUD official.
HUD funds deposited in the federal registry on Monday will also be distributed to improve energy systems in the U.S. Virgin Islands. St. John and St. Thomas had a blackout a few days ago.
The release of the funds is the latest move by President Joe Biden’s administration to release long-stranded relief money, initially allocated by Congress under the Trump administration.
The HUD said 90% of funds allocated through the HUD have now been committed, a development that comes as the agency – along with other federal entities – prepares to relax Trump-era rules that, According to Puerto Rican officials, are slowing the recovery and delivery of funds.
“This is, in many ways, one of the last steps in putting Puerto Rico on a level playing field,” said a HUD official.
In February, HUD approved the release of $ 1.3 billion of a program designed to mitigate future disaster and climate risks, and relaxed oversight and requirements for additional funding of nearly $ 5 billion. of dollars.
Much of the federal government’s money to repair Puerto Rico‘s energy grid comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which allocated $ 9.6 billion for this purpose in September 2020 – among the biggest rewards of FEMA history.
Puerto Rico‘s power grid, owned by the bankrupt island’s utility, is vulnerable and obsolete. Hurricane Maria in 2017, which killed thousands of people, destroyed the system.
It took 11 months to restore power to the entire main island of the Puerto Rican archipelago. Tout Vieques, an offshore town of 9,000 people, was still running on generators more than a year after the devastating storm.
Powerful earthquakes in early 2020 also damaged production capacity and left the island in a near total blackout.
Since June 1, LUMA Energy, a group based in San Juan and made up of the North American companies Atco and Quanta Services, has been operating the distribution and transmission lines of the island’s electricity grid. The private operator, winner of a 15-year contract worth several billion dollars, is committed to modernizing the public service and reducing costs.
But not everyone agrees with LUMA’s entry into the energy sector.
Critics have concerns that range from opposition to the privatization of government services to criticism that the service contract is too expensive. Some want the deal canceled.
Recent power outages across the island, including one that left nearly a million customers in the dark on June 10, have left many frustrated with the new operator. Governor Pedro Pierluisi, who hopes LUMA will improve the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority‘s services and infrastructure, asked island residents to give the company time to settle into office.