Puerto Rico’s grid ‘totally destroyed’ — Trump

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, September 22, 2017

President Trump said Puerto Rico’s already degraded and underfunded electrical grid was obliterated by Hurricane Maria and vowed to visit the U.S. territory in the coming days.

“Puerto Rico is in very, very, very tough shape. Their electrical grid is destroyed,” Trump told reporters after a meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

“It wasn’t in good shape to start off with,” said the president, “but their electrical grid is totally destroyed and so many other things.”

The massive storm that slammed into the Caribbean island yesterday as a Category 4 with 155 mph winds toppled power lines and left 3.4 million people in the dark.

The monstrous storm also added to the financial woes of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), a bankrupt utility and sole provider of electricity to 1.5 million customers.

Ricardo Ramos, PREPA’s director, said in an online statement yesterday that none of the island’s power plants were online and the system was not providing power.

“This afternoon, starting from the eastern side, we are going to start the inspection of our system as we can,” Ramos said. “This weekend we will be inspecting a lot of the transmission lines. We have a plan.”

Ramos said local crews will work with help from the mainland and private contractors. The governor, mayor of San Juan and other leaders have tried to keep the population calm following the storm’s passage.

Puerto Rico’s grid has faced financial and management woes for years, long before Hurricane Maria rolled ashore and Hurricane Irma scraped the eastern portion.

PREPA, a government-owned corporation, filed for bankruptcy in July, calling its own system “degraded and unsafe,” according to Reuters.

The utility’s woes stem from decades of doling out free power for all 78 of Puerto Rico’s municipalities, along with government-owned businesses and even some for-profit enterprises, racking up $9 billion of debt and burdening its citizen consumers with high energy prices (Greenwire, May 2, 2016).

Despite experts asserting the island is positioned to produce all its power from its rich renewable resources, Puerto Rico produces no conventional fuels and relies almost exclusively on imported oil, which is subject to global markets and often wildly expensive.

Trump vowed to work with the governor and people of Puerto Rico with “great gusto,” and yesterday declared a major disaster there, freeing up federal disaster resources. Congress has also promised assistance (see related story).

The president indicated the Federal Emergency Management Agency was traveling to the island. The agency in recent weeks has been busy tackling disastrous storms — and cleanup — in the Gulf Coast states of Texas and Florida.

“FEMA has been beyond — who would’ve thought after Texas, they go to Florida, then they go to Puerto Rico, and they go to other places, too,” Trump said. “So we are going to start the process now with Puerto Rico.”

Reporter Manuel Quiñones contributed.