Puerto Rico Suffers Another Major Power Outage

Photo of Puerto Rico Suffers Another Major Power Outage
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Millions of residents in Puerto Rico are trying to adapt to what they are calling “the new normal,” as the second islandwide blackout in a week left more than 1.3 million customers without electricity and reliable communications Wednesday.Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, tweeted about the islandwide power outage just before 10 a.m. It could take as long as 36 hours to restore electricity to everyone, according to PREPA, the highly indebted company that generates and delivers all public power on the island. They said the process of restarting the plants alone takes 10 to 12 hours. Before that can happen, the power authority must perform exhaustive diagnostic protocols to find the cause of the failure and protect the system from further disruptions. Contractor errorPREPA’s interim director, Justo González, said Wednesday that Cobra Energy, a U.S. private contractor, hit the transmission line with a crane, causing multiple power plants to shut down in quick succession.Two main power plants, AES and Aguirre, immediately unplugged from the power system to protect their large generators after the transmission line was toppled. That sudden loss of power transmission then made it impossible for substations to keep running.“This is unacceptable,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve been told by Cobra that the company will be decommissioned effective immediately.”The utility said its priority was to bring back service to hospitals, San Juan’s airport, water pumping systems and financial institutions. ​Gridlock and gas linesThe islandwide outage caused chaos in the streets. Local law enforcement mobilized traffic units to busy intersections across the island. Within hours, long lines were reported at local gas stations and gridlock at some of the larger intersections in the San Juan area. Several fires and explosions resulting from faulty generators were reported in urban areas around San Juan but were quickly contained.Tens of thousands of people have not had electricity since the catastrophic Hurricane Maria hit the island last September. It was the second widespread failure in less than a week, underscoring just how fragile Puerto Rico’s electricity remains since the storm hit. The United States Army Corps of Engineers has spent $2.1 billion on restoring power on the island, where 80 percent of the distribution lines were damaged during the hurricane. Declaring its mission nearly complete, the corps had begun demobilizing the majority of the contractors on the island.With a debt of $9 billion, PREPA filed for a form of bankruptcy last year. Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is pushing a bill to privatize the power system. The island’s legislature held public hearings this week.Jorge Bracero, an engineer with the power authority known for his impromptu social media reports on the status of the island’s power grid, has urged caution and patience from the community as they restore the system.“People should try to use as little power as possible until the system is fully restored,” he said. ​Baseball goes onSan Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, a frequent critic of recovery efforts since the hurricane, tweeted Wednesday: “The entire electrical system in Puerto Rico collapses AGAIN! Back to September 20th.”But the mayor said backup systems and mobile tower lights will allow Wednesday night’s baseball game between the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins to go on as planned at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.“Nothing will stop us,” she tweeted.All this uncertainty looms large as another hurricane season, which forecasts predict to be an active one, begins in September.

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