Puerto Rico to privatize its power system

Puerto Rico to privatize its power system
© Camille Fine

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Monday he plans to sell the assets of the island's power system to the private sector in an effort to improve its "deficient service.”

In a video Rosselló posted to Facebook, the governor called the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) "a great burden for our people, who today are hostage to its deficient service and high costs."

Speaking in Spanish, Rosselló said the electric company, which is owned and operated by Puerto Rico, "doesn't work," adding that the country "can’t go on operating this way."

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The island’s power system is 28 years older than the average U.S. system, according to Rosselló, and its ability was put to the test when hurricanes Maria and Irma hit last year. The events left a majority of residents throughout the island without power for months on end. As of the end of December, only 55 percent of the island had power.

"Frankly, with this authority we can’t confront the risks inherent to living in an area of high vulnerability to catastrophic events, like the two recent hurricanes," Rosselló said in the statement. "Facing this reality, I want to inform you of one of the initiatives with greatest impact for the construction of a new and modern Puerto Rico: the transformation of our electrical system.”

Rosselló said that determining who would operate the new power system would be a three-step process, starting with creating legislation to determine the legality of the sale and ending with awarding the contract to a company that meets "the requirements for the transformation and modernization of our energy system."

PREPA has experienced a number of criticisms since the two hurricanes decimated the island last fall.

The utility came under fire in November for signing a $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings, a small firm based out of Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Spending bill targets Pruitt | Ryan not paying 'close attention' to Pruitt controversies | Yellowstone park chief learned of dismissal through press release Yellowstone superintendent officially learned of dismissal through press release GOP offshore drilling proposal triggers debate MORE's hometown. The contract to restore power to the island was later canceled and subjected to a number of investigations from both Congress and the FBI. PREPA's executive director, Ricardo Ramos, resigned in November following the controversy.

The now-bankrupt company was also struggling prior to the storms. It was responsible for $9 billion of the island's $74 billion debt load.