Electricity has been a problem for Puerto Rico since well before the 2017 hurricane season. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), the electric power authority for Puerto Rico, has been deeply in debt for years and has been accused of corruption and mismanagement.
Energy costs have been far higher in Puerto Rico than in the rest of the U.S. for many years, due in part to the fact that Puerto Rico has brought in petroleum products to power the Island. In 2015, the average household electric bill in Puerto Rico was $438.21, while the average for the U.S. was $169.49, according to the Guardian. This difference is particularly starling in light of the fact that much of Puerto Rico could use solar energy year round to support electric needs.
Most recently, Puerto Rico has had the longest power outage in U.S. history as a result of Hurricane Maria and, as many people claim, the legacy of PREPA’s failure to maintain the power grid on the Island.
DOE requests analysis
The U.S. Department of Energy released a report called “Energy Resilience Solutions for the Puerto Rico Grid” last week, along with a call for a thorough analysis of the electric grid in Puerto Rico.
The report said that PREPA’s system was well designed but that it had “weakened over time to the point of catastrophic failure” when Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck. The focus of the report is on gathering the information needed to make the best allocation of resources as Puerto Rico rebuilds. Specifically, the goal is “ensuring that investments will result in modern, intelligent infrastructure systems that are affordable, reliable, and resilient, while fully complying will all local and federal law.”
Thirty practical recommendations were also included. For example, the temporary structures set up to try to get the lights back on after the hurricanes should be replaced by more permanent structures as quickly as possible. The new roads which have been built in remote areas should be used for new electric power poles so they’ll be more accessible for repair. The system should be rebuilt to the standards used throughout the U.S., with standardized components which will make repairs easier in future.
Puerto Rico must rebuild the system to encourage regular maintenance and to make repairs easier after future storms. The report also calls for energy conservation, use of solar energy, and the potential repurposing of Roosevelt Roads as a power plant. There are also six recommendations centering on the use of micro-grids.
Intelligent rebuilding of the electrical system in Puerto Rico could have far-reaching benefits. The loss of electricity in healthcare facilities and homes using home health care systems such as oxygen machines has been connected with the loss of life after Hurricane Maria. High electricity costs increase the cost of living in Puerto Rico across the board. PREPA’s financial problems were a big part of Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, too.
The report suggests a number of changes in management which could avoid similar problems in the future. These include higher levels of cooperation with other agencies, documented long-term plans, and staff training.