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Fiona Blackout Brings New Scrutiny to Puerto Rico's Grid Problems

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The impact of Hurricane Fiona on Puerto Rico has brought renewed attention to the region’s troubled power system.

The storm left millions of Puerto Ricans without power for several days, with hundreds of thousands still without power as of Friday.

Puerto Rico’s power problems have been exacerbated by the incomplete rebuilding of the grid following the destruction of Hurricane Maria, partly due to bureaucratic struggles.

“The system was in a state of disrepair five years ago. [and] Tom Sanjiro, Director of Financial Analysis, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said:

It took years for the federal government to fully allocate federal aid to Puerto Rico’s reconstruction, and only a fraction of it was actually spent.

In 2020, the Trump administration funded Puerto Rico’s power grid billions of dollars, but the release raised questions as to why the money wasn’t distributed until three years later.

The administration has generally been reluctant to provide aid to Puerto Rico and has expressed concerns about corruption and its ability to manage its funds.

Manuel Lavoy, executive director of Puerto Rico’s Department of Rehabilitation, Recovery and Resilience, said the delay is one reason the country’s power grid has not fully recovered.

“If we had mandates before 2020, we would have progressed further,” Laboy said.

Since its release, spending on the project has been slow.

Of the $28 billion it received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Puerto Rico spent about $5.3 billion, or 19 percent, on general recovery, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report. It’s just

The majority of these expenditures (81%) were used for emergency work and only 8% were spent on permanent projects.

Sergio Marxuac, policy director at the Center for a New Economy, a Puerto Rican think tank, said little post-Maria aid was actually used. Puerto Rico and the federal government about what the money can be used for.

“Normally, FEMA only rebuilds to what it was before the storm. I allowed it,” he said.

He added that due to the ambiguity of the legislative language, some of the details would have to be worked out between the federal and territory governments.

Laboy noted that much of the fundraising didn’t happen until 2020, so the project couldn’t get started until recently.

“Permanent work obligations started happening in 2020,” he said.

When he took office in 2021, FEMA and Puerto Rico’s energy regulator had not approved any projects to repair the grid, but have since approved 47.

He also said there was another delay as these projects were unable to receive cash in advance until June of this year through a new program to pay projects 25% of the cash in advance.

“All these power projects for permanent jobs can now benefit from 25% progress, so it will be a huge boost to get more projects on the ground,” Laboy said. said.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s power company, PREPA, is also struggling with debt, filing for bankruptcy in 2017 more than Maria. The Puerto Rican government still owns the grid equipment, but has an operating contract with a private company known as LUMA.

Even before Hurricane Fiona, Marxuach said the two separate organizations in charge created a confusing situation.

“Even before Fiona, there was a power outage and it wasn’t even raining. seems to be

There was also controversy over how to reconstruct Puerto Rico’s grid exactly. His 2019 law, adopted by the island government, mandates a transition to renewable energy by 2050, including 40% renewable energy by 2025.

But the status quo is nowhere near. Between July 2020 and June 2021, 97% of its electricity came from fossil fuels.

In March, PREPA’s executive director, Hosue Colón, thought it impossible to meet the goals of the 2019 legislation and called for them to be reconsidered.

Sanzillo expressed concern that if Puerto Rico builds its infrastructure based primarily on fossil fuels, its infrastructure will be in place regardless of the law.

“If they go ahead and sign contracts and make deals, the law doesn’t matter,” he said.

However, Lavoy emphasized the government’s commitment to renewable energy.

“One of the key elements of resilience is [adapting] Responding to climate change is at the forefront of our strategy because it is renewable energy. ”

He added that the government of Puerto Rico has awarded contracts for 18 renewable energy projects.

Liang Ming, managing director of the Stanford University Initiative for Grid Research, said Puerto Rico will increase its use of distributed solar energy, that is, solar energy built within individual homes or communities, and conversely, batteries. said he would benefit from it. From large solar farms.

But he also added that there is not just one solution to the grid’s problems and that power and distribution lines need to be strengthened.

Minh added that if Puerto Rico continues the status quo, electrical problems will return.

“If they do business as they normally would, the existing structure they have, the existing utility planning process they have, this is going to happen every year,” he said.