Costa Sur Plant

Most of Puerto Rico’s power is produced in the south of the island, but the highest demand is in the northern region, which includes the capital city, San Juan. >Carlos Rivera Giusti

Puerto Rico’s power grid needs to be strengthened. Puerto Ricans need reliable electric service, and Puerto Rico’s government needs the flexibility to complete both missions without mandates that delay both and accomplish neither.

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017, but Puerto Rico’s power grid was weak before Hurricane Maria. Puerto Ricans continue to face a grim reality—the power grid in Puerto Rico is not reliable for many reasons, from its aging infrastructure to federal requirements placed upon its reconstruction and the processes by which funding for its restoration are administered. Puerto Rico needs a sustained grid, while it moves on to a sustainable one.

FEMA defines recovery in terms that include “rebuilding damaged structures…,” “reducing vulnerability…,” and “preventing stress-related illness and excessive financial burdens…”

These recovery positions, however, stand in contrast with federal policies that look to force Puerto Rico to modernize its power generation at the same time as it has to stabilize it, and leaves initial financing to the island, until it can prove that it has spent the money in a way that is acceptable to the federal government.

How can Puerto Rico and the federal government arrive at a compromise on what sustainable recovery looks like, while also ensuring that the Puerto Rican people have the service they need in the immediate term?

An advanced, modern, sustainable power grid is important, but a power grid that allows Puerto Rico to continue its path towards recovery is just as important.

Since the summer of 2021, Puerto Rico’s power grid and power generation capacity failed consistently, with power outages that have left over one million residents in the dark at certain times. The power outages continue, and explanations are scarce.

Throughout the island’s history, Puerto Rico’s government policies have been discussed in Washington, D.C. with the island’s leaders and residents on the sidelines, fighting to be heard while Washington insiders debate what Puerto Rico must do to recover. These conversations ignore Puerto Rico’s territorial status, its cultural complexities and its difficulties in moving policy agendas that are focused on national hot-button issues and not necessarily with Puerto Rico’s best interests at heart.

In the past 18 months, the world has seen a pandemic that has tested every country, every state, every city and every town on the planet. Puerto Rico has also been hit by historically destructive hurricanes and earthquakes. Puerto Rico’s emergency management capabilities have been tested and tested again.

Along with the challenges that all these situations have presented, Puerto Rico has been faced with a failing electric grid. The current administration in Puerto Rico inherited a contract signed by the previous governor and the responsibility of working to set in motion a management agreement that has gotten off on the wrong foot.

Just this week, new leadership was appointed and has taken over Puerto Rico’s power authority, in hopes that it will turn this ship around and work to improve a situation that has many Puerto Ricans constantly aggravated, worried and understandably impatient.

The most important step that this new leadership can take is to ensure that the electric grid on the island is restored to a strong reinforced state that allows the power authority to provide reliable energy and makes it feasible for the current or any other administrative service contractor to provide the grid with the necessary care, for the people of Puerto Rico to receive the service they deserve.

In the meantime, the shapers of policy and public opinion in Washington should look to the needs of the people of Puerto Rico, above all to policy changes they favor.

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