Puerto Rico power utility rejects municipal help for grid repair
SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) rejected mayors’ proposal to help restore service to utility customers who continue without power more than three months after hurricanes Irma and María, citing “safety reasons.”
Carlos Torres, who oversees the recovery effort, was met with incredulity from mayors after he declined their assistance. The municipal officials claim they face daily public scrutiny over Prepa’s inability to restore service islandwide and have been preparing themselves to address the situation.
“We have the ability to guarantee the safety of citizens. For example, here we have mayors ready to help Prepa and, in our case in Cayey, the person I have to work on the system is a renowned former regional director of the Electric Power Authority itself. There is a dire need for service. I insist that we have the equipment and the human resources,” Cayey Mayor Rolando Ortiz said.
In response to Ortiz’s statement, Torres assured that “Prepa retirees are not qualified for the process. I need more time to bring the resources and do system restoration’s work. If you don’t agree with my decision, I don’t have a problem with that, but I need to protect lives.”
Meanwhile, Caguas Mayor William Miranda Torres assured that his “city is the fifth in Puerto Rico in [terms of] population and we are 60 percent rural; that rural zone has zero percent Prepa service.” Miranda Torres reiterated the importance of reaching an agreement quickly to provide service to citizens.
During Juncos Mayor Alfredo Alejandro’s turn in the meeting, he said his town purchased utility poles for use by the electric workers from Jacksonville, Fla. “We even bring them food; we have become friends and they are eager to work, but they don’t have equipment or materials. Look, Torres, people won’t die for helping; right now there are patients who could die due to a lack of electric service,” he pleaded.
Meanwhile, Barceloneta Mayor Wanda Soler gave details about several cases of human interest she has personally seen and led her to join the mayors’ request to assist Prepa in restoring its service.
However, Torres assured that he was “worried about those who could die from an electric shock,” to which the mayor of Cayey responded, “But aren’t you concerned about those who are dying now due to a lack of electric power?”
Ponce Mayor María Meléndez insisted on her reservation that municipalities assume the responsibility to restore electric service but demanded action amid Prepa’s delay in restoring sectors in the outskirts of her town.
“We had $300 million eliminated from our budget, acknowledged by the governor himself. Municipalities took on responsibilities of departments such as Housing, Health, and Family during the emergency. And must we now wait for a new, parallel infrastructure to be created to restore electric energy service? What is urgent is a clear, real and adequate plan to solve the problem now,” Meléndez pressed in a written statement.
Regarding other mayors’ proposal to assist Prepa, Meléndez said that “the municipalities are in crisis. Given the emergency we had already been dealing with the $300 million in cuts and new impositions on our budgets, where are we going to get the money to obtain equipment, insurance, materials and personnel with the necessary experience to restore the electric system? That is absurd. That is improvisation. To assume this new responsibility would be to admit Prepa has no plan to manage this crisis.”
The meeting between Torres and the mayors was also attended by municipal officials from Yauco, Camuy, Aguada, Maunabo, Gurabo, Villalba, Naranjito, and Arecibo. Representing the executive branch were José Marrero, director of the Office of Management & Budget, and La Fortaleza Municipal Affairs Adviser Omar Marrero.