Paredes appointed acting Prepa executive director
Public utility’s governing board will continue to evaluate candidates for a permanent designation
SAN JUAN – Engineer Efran Paredes Maisonet was selected by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) governing board on Wednesday evening to serve as acting executive director of the public utility, starting Thursday.
Paredes, who had been acting as Prepa’s Environmental Planning and Protection division director and who has occupied posts at the public corporation since 2000, substitutes José Ortiz, whose resignation as Prepa chief took effect at midnight Wednesday.
“Engineer Paredes-Maisonet has been a highly competent servant. His two decades of experience at Prepa [has] allowed him to have the corporation background and close-up knowledge of the transformation that has been underway,” Prepa Governing Board Chairman Ralph A. Kreil Rivera said in a press release issued after an extraordinary meeting of the board convened on the matter. “We appreciate his acceptance of the designation and his availability to work in close collaboration with the governing board to reach the efficiency goals we have set for ourselves.”
Kreil said that the governing board will continue with the process of evaluating candidates for the designation of a permanent executive director of Prepa. He did not provide further details on this process.
As director of Prepa’s Environmental Planning and Protection division, Paredes has headed “several initiatives at Prepa in coordination with federal and state agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau, the [Puerto Rico] Public-Private Partnership Authority and the Financial [Oversight and] Management Board, among others,” Kreil said in the press release.
From April 2009 to December 2012, Paredes served as energy and environment adviser to then Gov. Luis Fortuño. The new acting Prepa executive director holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico’s Mayagüez campus.
As the new Prepa chief, Paredes faces the challenge of overseeing an electrical grid that has been plagued by a lack of maintenance, amid a current hurricane season that has been forecast to be more active than normal. Prepa officials have acknowledged that little of the tree pruning work to avoid contact with power lines has been completed. Tree branch contact with lines was a chief cause of last week’s power outages.
Moreover, Paredes must work in the transition of Prepa’s transmission and distribution grid and customer services to the LUMA Energy LLC consortium by May 2021. The public utility signed a $1.4 billion, 15-year public-private partnership contract with the consortium in June.
The controversial LUMA contract is being challenged in court by the Irrigation & Electrical Workers Union (Utier by its Spanish acronym), the largest labor union at Prepa, which argues that the contractis one-sided and favors the interests of the consortium over those of the utility workers and customers. In testimony recently submitted to the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) Finance Director Tom Sanzillo warned of significant problems with the LUMA deal, arguing that it “provides no accountability mechanism for LUMA to meet either ratepayer savings or renewable energy goals.”
The Prepa governing board accepted Ortiz’s resignation on Monday, amid controversy over the public utility’s handling of power outages caused by Tropical Storm Isaias last week, which left up to half a million customers without power for several days.
Gov. Vázquez Garced said Monday that she had met with Kreil on Sunday to express her “concern” over Ortiz’s work, including that of “all of the [Prepa] management,” during last week’s emergency. She said she requested from the Prepa biard chief “a well-aimed and efficient response for all Puerto Ricans.”
Ortiz had also clashed with Utier over a two-hour blackout on Tuesday of last week, the day before the tropical storm brushed the island to the south, and which affected 400,000 utility customers. He blamed the power outage on sabotage by utility workers, calling it “internal terrorism,” but Utier President Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo countered that tree pruning work by private companies hired by Prepa likely caused the blackout, which is under investigation.
In fact, Figueroa reportedly said in a social media posting Wednesday that the selection of Paredes to head Prepa was in response to Ortiz’s wishes, stating that “José Ortiz will continue to give orders from outside” the public utility.
However, in his resignation letter, Ortiz said that he was leaving Prepa at “an opportune moment” and after having served out the 24 months he had originally committed to heading Prepa after being appointed to the post in July 2018.
In fact, Kreil reportedly said on Wednesday that it was “literally a coincidence” that Ortiz’s resignation occurred after Vázquez approached him about the power outages. He reportedly said that the governor requested “managerial actions” to deal with the situation and never specifically asked for Ortiz’s resignation.
Ortiz’s resignation letter stated that he would leave Wednesday to give him time to restore power to 100 percent of Prepa’s customers. However, rolling power outages continued Thursday in the San Juan metro area and eastern part of the island, according to Prepa reports posted on Twitter, which did not provide figures on how many customers were affected nor the cause of the outages.