Puerto Rico's electric grid under scrutiny as new hurricane season looms

Puerto Rico's electric grid under scrutiny as new hurricane season looms
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Lawmakers grilled officials Tuesday over efforts to restore power to Puerto Rico after last year's devastating hurricanes.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiProgressive group targets Collins, Murkowski after Kavanaugh allegation Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas GOP can't sweep Kavanaugh bombshell under the rug MORE (R-Alaska) said lawmakers wanted to ensure that federal and island officials are doing all they can a year after hurricanes Irma and Maria hit and as a new hurricane season approaches.

“My fear is always after every disaster that the news is there for a cycle, the relief efforts are there for only a limited period of time, and then we move off to the next disaster, to the next issue, and the people who remain vulnerable feel forgotten,” Murkowski said at the hearing before her panel. “Well, we’re not going to forget the people of Puerto Rico.”

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Officials have been working to restore power to the island after Hurricane Maria took out much of the territory's power grid last year. That recovery was further hampered by the second largest blackout on record which hit the island in April.

Charles Alexander Jr., the director for contingency operations and homeland security chief for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said that nearly 23,000 residents are still without power.

The Army Corps of Engineers is slated to leave Puerto Rico on Friday.

Alexander said that he rates his mission as incomplete.

“Our goal was always 100 percent," he said about the recovery work.

Officials told lawmakers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) only authorized and provided funding until May 15.

Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichElection Countdown: What to watch in final primaries | Dems launch M ad buy for Senate races | Senate seats most likely to flip | Trump slump worries GOP | Koch network's new super PAC Rand Paul endorses Gary Johnson's Senate bid The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s legal jeopardy mounts after Manafort, Cohen felony counts MORE (D-N.M.) questioned the decision to hand over recovery efforts.

“I cannot imagine a scenario where 20,000+ Texans or 20,000+ Floridians were without power and FEMA would make that decision,” Heinrich said. “I think that’s reprehensible.”

Responsibilities for restoring power to those still affected by the storm will be transferred to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA).

The CEO of PREPA, Walter Higgins, said there were issues with the power grid due to a lack of proper maintenance. He vowed that those issues would be resolved and not reoccur.

"The grid did not withstand the hurricane, it simply didn’t withstand it," Higgins said.

He added that there would need to be large scale changes to the electric grid going forward.

“Puerto Rico needs to change the way the grid is supplied by power today,” Higgins told the panel. “It is not being adequately and properly supplied with the current generation mix; that generation is troubled by maintenance issues, it’s troubled by being reliant on oil, which is both environmentally and cost-wise a difficult commodity, and in addition there’s not enough generation where it needs to be, and in some cases there’s too much where we don’t need it.”

Higgins also said PREPA is currently preparing for the upcoming hurricane season with emergency drills.

PREPA will also face its own future in Puerto Rico and the possibility of privatization.