Municipalities, Puerto Rico power utility to work together to restore grid
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Chief of Staff William Villafañe announced Monday an agreement to integrate municipalities’ assistance to speed up restoration of the island’s electric-power service grid while 40% of the utility’s customers remain in the dark nearly four months after the passage of Hurricane Maria.
Before making the announcement, the governor’s office waited until a Mayors Association protest ended in front of La Fortaleza. In the demonstration, the Popular Democratic Party mayors and citizens expressed frustration, alleging the Electric Power Authority (Prepa) lacked a detailed plan to restore electricity service.
Villafañe explained that the public corporation will provide a “draft agreement” for those municipalities that wish to establish a collaboration. Last week, the head of recovery efforts, Carlos Torres, rejected mayors’ assistance for “security reasons.”
The chief of staff pointed out that Gov. Ricardo Rosselló disagreed with Torres’ decision, so he requested an additional meeting with the mayors.
“We cannot ignore the fact that we have a politically organized demonstration,” said Villafañe, who stressed that Mayors Association allegations of favoritism toward New Progressive Party municipalities are incorrect, because they have more brigades assigned. Graphics representing the party affiliation of towns and their current service percentage were sent to the media as well.
The mayor of Bayamón, Ramón Luis Rivera Cruz, indicated the agreement with Prepa will include several safety regulations that must be obeyed, such as hiring skilled personnel “who are trained to work with live lines.” Rivera Cruz had requested an agreement since Hurricane Irma’s passage on Sept. 6.He added that “this is going to be municipality by municipality,” so each town will receive information about the work being done by the brigades and where they are located. The extensive agreement will seek to make the electric power recovery process more expeditious and better coordinated with the mayors.
Asked about the speed with which the problem is being addressed and USACE’s pace, Villafañe ruled that “it’s not so easy” to cancel the prior agreements but reaffirmed not being pleased with the work.
While protesters were expressing their displeasure at La Fortaleza, the governor was in Bayamón participating in the opening of a Dave & Buster’s restaurant, where he assured that “Puerto Rico is rising up.” As of Monday, 62.7% of Prepa’s customers have service, according to the government.