Energy & Environment

New York AG calls for federal probe into Puerto Rico’s energy provider after outages

A home is submerged in floodwaters caused by Hurricane Fiona in Cayey, Puerto Rico
AP Photo/Stephanie Rojas
A home is submerged in floodwaters caused by Hurricane Fiona in Cayey, Puerto Rico, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022. According to authorities three people were inside the home and were reported to have been rescued.

New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) on Tuesday called for a federal investigation into Puerto Rican energy provider Luma Energy after Hurricane Fiona swept through the U.S. territory and initially knocked out power throughout the island.

James sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) urging them to probe the “frequent and lengthy outages” throughout Puerto Rico since Luma Energy took over operations of the electric grid in 2021.

“While I fully support relief efforts underway to help Puerto Rico, I am convinced that we need long-term structural support for the island, not just band aids that take us from one crisis to the next,” James said in a statement. “One of these structural challenges is the power grid and the electrical supply Puerto Ricans rely on for basic necessities.”

“Puerto Ricans are rightly concerned about the failures of LUMA, the island’s electric supplier,” she added.

The Hill has reached out to FEMA, FERC and the DOE for comment.

After Hurricane Fiona made landfall on Sunday, it knocked out power for the roughly 1.5 million customers on the island. The entire grid ultimately failed, affecting Puerto Rico’s more than 3 million residents.

President Biden has declared an emergency for Puerto Rico, and FEMA has sent hundreds of emergency responders to the island.

As of Tuesday, more than a million customers on the island are still without power, according to PowerOutage.us, and many Puerto Ricans lack access to potable water.

The defeat of the power grid is a reminder of the stark failures after 2017’s Hurricane Maria, which caused billions of dollars in damage and the longest blackout in U.S. history as some customers waited months for power to come back online.

Luma Energy, created by a Houston company and a Canadian business, took over from the state-run Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) in the summer of 2021 to privatize the grid in the wake of the failures caused by Maria.

But James on Tuesday said Luma Energy has failed to keep the power running reliably several times, including two blackouts last month, and said customers face long delays in getting power back on. She called into question the billions of federal dollars that have flowed to Puerto Rico to strengthen its grid.

On Monday, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) postponed a hearing that was set for this week that would have examined concerns with PREPA and Luma Energy. Grijalva said he still planned to investigate.

“There are no words to describe how devastating it is to witness Hurricane Fiona wreak havoc in Puerto Rico, especially as the destruction of Hurricane Maria still lingers on the island five years later,” he said in a statement. “I also want to make it abundantly clear that the people of Puerto Rico deserve an electrical grid and other critical infrastructure that is built to endure these kinds of natural disasters and other effects of climate change.

“But for too long, they have been living with a power utility that hasn’t delivered on that obligation,” the lawmaker added.

Others are also raising questions about Puerto Rico’s long-standing issues with its energy grid.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the award-winning musical “Hamilton,” wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post on Tuesday that “Puerto Rico is in a state of increasing vulnerability” after Fiona and Maria, arguing more businesses and people across the mainland U.S. should assist the island in addressing the persistent issues.

“Solving its energy crisis, the effects of climate change and continued migration off the island are essential priorities for both the citizens of this island and the nation of which it is a part,” Miranda wrote in the opinion piece with his father, Luis A. Miranda Jr.

James on Tuesday also said the rates for electricity are about double the U.S. national average in a territory where more than 40 percent of the population lives in poverty.

“As Puerto Rico begins to recover from Hurricane Fiona, LUMA must be held accountable,” she wrote.

Tags Deanne Criswell Department of Energy Federal Energy Regulatory Commission FEMA Hurricane Fiona Jennifer Granholm Letitia James Letitia James LUMA Energy New York Puerto Rico Puerto Rico Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority Raul Grijalva Richard Glick
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