US sends mega-generators to alleviate blackouts in Puerto Rico

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San Juan Puerto Rico — The governor of Puerto Rico announced Friday that the US government has sent three mega-generators to the island to help stabilize the US territory’s rickety power grid and minimize ongoing outages.

The generators will add 150 megawatts of power, and additional generators the United States is expected to send soon will supply another 250 megawatts, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said.

Officials said crews will install the generators before the start of the Atlantic hurricane season on June 1.

“It’s the first step in a very, very complex process,” said Nancy Casper, coordinating officer for the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA is paying 90% of the project and the Puerto Rican government the remaining 10% as part of an agreement reached last year, but both Casper and Pierluisi said the full cost was not yet available because it would depend in part on how long the generators will operate.

Puerto Rico recently began permanent repairs to an aging power grid that was swept away by Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that hit the island in September 2017. Since then, power outages have become commonplace, disrupting the daily life on the island of 3.2 million people. .

The federal government has allocated some $12 billion, most of it for rebuilding the grid, but only 18 permanent projects totaling $88 million have been completed as of early March, according to the nonpartisan think tank Center for to New Economy.

“At this rate, it would take more than 100 years to complete the rebuilding of Puerto Rico’s power grid,” the center said in an analysis published Thursday.

The power grid was further weakened by Hurricane Fiona, a Category 1 storm that hit the southwestern region of Puerto Rico in September 2022. It caused an island-wide blackout and caused more than $3 billion in damage to the electrical system in ruins.

“Temporary generation is critical,” Casper said of the new generators.

The temporary power increase will allow crews to take substations, transformers and switches offline for repairs that could take 12-18 months.

Puerto Rico’s power grid was already unstable before Hurricane Maria struck, with officials blaming decades of mismanagement and neglect. Its generating units are on average 45 years old, twice that of the continental United States.

Ongoing grid problems arise as the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority struggles to restructure a debt of more than $9 billion, the largest of any government agency. Most creditors have yet to reach an agreement with a federal control board that oversees the island’s finances despite six years of acrimonious negotiations.

In June 2020, the island’s power company privatized transmission and distribution operations, announcing in January that it had selected a private company to operate and maintain its generation units.

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