US ships mega generators to ease blackouts in Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico’s governor announced Friday that the U.S. government has delivered three mega-generators…

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico’s governor announced Friday that the U.S. government has sent three mega-generators to the island to help stabilize the U.S. territory’s shaky power grid and minimize ongoing outages.

The generators will add 150 megawatts of capacity, and additional generators the U.S. is expected to supply will add another 250 megawatts soon, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said.

Officials said crews will install the generators before the start of the Atlantic hurricane season on June 1.

“This is the first step in a very, very complex process,” said Nancy Kasper, the coordinator of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA is paying for 90% of the project and the Government of Puerto Rico is paying the remaining 10% under the framework the deal was reached last yearbut both Casper and Pierluisi said the total cost is not yet available because it will depend in part on how long the generators run.

Puerto Rico has only recently begun permanent repairs to its aging power grid, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that hit the island in September 2017. Since then, blackouts have become commonplace, disrupting everyday life there are 3.2 million people on the island.

The federal government has committed about $12 billion — most of it to rebuilding the power grid — but as of early March, only 18 permanent projects totaling $88 million had been completed, according to the nonpartisan think tank Center for a New Economy.

“At this rate, it would take more than 100 years to complete the reconstruction of Puerto Rico’s electric grid,” according to the center’s analysis released Thursday.

The power system was further weakened by Hurricane Fiona, a Category 1 storm that hit the southwestern region of Puerto Rico in September 2022. It caused an island-wide blackout and caused more than $3 billion in damage to the destroyed electrical system.

“Interim generation is critical,” Casper said of the new generators.

The temporary power increase will allow crews to shut down substations, transformers and circuit breakers for repairs that could take 12 to 18 months.

Puerto Rico’s power system was shaky even before Hurricane Maria, and officials blamed decades of mismanagement and neglect. Its generation facilities have an average age of 45 years, double that of the US mainland.

The ongoing grid problems come as Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority struggles to restructure more than $9 billion in debt, the largest of any government agency. Most lenders have yet to come to a deal with the federal control board that oversees the island’s finances, despite six years of heated negotiations.

In June 2020, the island’s energy company privatized transmission and distribution operations, and in January he announced that he had chosen a private company operate and maintain their generating plants.

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