By Alfonso Rodriguez
San Juan, Jun 3 (EFE).- Puerto Ricans, already grumbling about much higher electricity rates under privatization, are expressing concern that the new operators of the power grid lack the experience and knowledge to cope with the challenges of hurricane season, which began June 1.
Some residents of this United States commonwealth in the Caribbean went months without power after Hurricane Maria slammed Puerto Rico in September 2017 and problems are not uncommon even in fair weather.
In April, a fire at a power plant led to an island-wide blackout that lasted for days.
It was nearly a year ago that Puerto Rican authorities awarded the contract for electricity distribution and transmission to LUMA Energy, a joint venture of Canada-based ATCO and US firm Quanta Services.
State-run utility AEE was left with the responsibility for generating electricity.
The head of the UTIER union, which represents workers in the electrical and water sectors, told Efe that Puerto Rico’s power infrastructure is very complex, comprising 36,000 mi (57,936 km) of above-ground and buried wires.
“That makes adequately maintaining the electric system much more difficult,” Angel Figueroa Jaramillo said.
“Firstly, no electric system in the world is infallible against nature, but there are always mechanisms one can use to reduce the possibility of damage,” he said, adding that LUMA lacks sufficient trained technicians to ensure reliability.
“LUMA has demonstrated during the year that it has been operating that it daily has thousands of subscribers without service,” the union official said.
The company’s CEO, Wayne Stensby, said recently that LUMA is “well prepared” for the 2022 hurricane season, with $130 million in supplies on hand and more than 1,000 field technicians.
Osvaldo Becerra, a resident of San Juan’s Barrio Obrero neighborhood, told Efe that he and his neighbors expect a reprise of the events of last summer, when subscribers had to deal with frequent power cuts even as their power bills soared.
“The rates have increased by as much as 150 percent. We have gone from paying $170 to $450 monthly,” he said.
The median household income in Puerto Rico last year was $21,058, according to US Census data.
Thanks to government subsidies, people living at the Villa Esperanza public housing project in San Juan have not seen their power bills rise.
But Esperanza resident Steven Figueroa told Efe that he expects another summer of blackouts.
“Anyway, I have a diesel generator in my home for when the power goes,” he said. EFE