Hurricane Fiona shows Puerto Rico’s power grid is still built to fail


Puerto Rico’s 3.1 million residents were hit by a depressingly publicized islandwide power outage this week in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona. Some power has been restored, but he’s 1.1 million customers are still in the dark as of Wednesday morning.this may be day Before all Puerto Ricans turned on the lights and pumped clean drinking water.

The blackout occurred on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s landfall. Hurricane Maria is a storm that still leaves fresh scars across Puerto Rico. More than 3,000 of her homes on the island still have roof tarps from Maria’s 174 mph winds. The hurricane cast a devastating shadow over her, causing a devastating power outage that lasted 11 months, leaving people without the power they need to purify water, refrigerate medicines and stay cool in the scorching heat. . In Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria killed nearly 3,000 of her people, most in its dark aftermath.

The danger of a major blackout and the likelihood of it happening again has certainly been evident in every storm season since Maria. is a function of readiness and response. Puerto Rico’s power grid had been in a dire state for years before Maria landed, and it remained that way before Fiona. Prior to this week’s storm, the island had been plagued with power outages for months. This was not the first island-wide blackout this year.

Luis Martinez, Southeast Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate and Clean Energy Program, said: “Since Maria, not enough has been done to stabilize the system.”

why?

After Maria, billions of dollars were allocated to strengthen Puerto Rico’s power grid, and despite the ambition to rebuild and rethink the energy system, the same hurdles that left the power grid in a vulnerable state still remain. I’m here. Bring power to the island.

The situation in Puerto Rico may be extreme, but power grids across the United States have also flickered recently, especially in California and Texas where extreme weather has curbed power output while pushing demand to record highs. Vulnerability is poised to grow as average temperatures continue to rise due to climate change, leading to more extreme heat and more severe rainfall events.

Puerto Rico’s blackout is an important warning of what could happen in many more places if we don’t address climate change and power companies remain stuck in business as usual.

Repairing Puerto Rico’s power grid is a tall order

Puerto Rico’s power challenge begins with its geography. Due to limited resources, the region imports all the fuel needed to run its major power plants. Natural gas provides 44% of the island’s electricity, oil 37%, coal 17% and renewables 3%.

Because of the need to transport fuel, most of Puerto Rico’s power plants are near the coast, with the largest plants along the southern coastline. However, the main power consumers, including the capital San Juan, are located in the northern part of the island. This would require bridging power lines across the mountains in the center of the island, creating choke points that are susceptible to extreme weather and difficult to repair.

Storms are not the only threat. Puerto Rico was hit by an earthquake in her 2020 that damaged two of its largest power plants and forced them to shut down for months. As a result, the island was in danger of power outages. This shows that the concentration of power generation in a few regions can cause problems that spread throughout the grid.

Puerto Rico generator map

Much of Puerto Rico’s electricity is generated in the south of the island, with most of the demand in the north.
Energy information management

After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico had to install 50,000 utility poles and 6,500 miles of cable, some of which had to be helicoptered to remote locations. That’s part of the reason it took so long to restore power. The rebuilding process was also hampered by bad decisions. Most notably, a small Montana company called Whitefish Energy signed his $300 million contract to restore the grid, but is barely equipped to handle the job. and charged the employee more than double his actual cost.

Puerto Rico’s public utility, PREPA, was already bankrupt when Maria hit. With Puerto Rico’s reliance on imported fuels, especially oil, PREPA remained vulnerable to international market shocks. Rising fuel prices over the years have forced the company to spend more to keep its power plants running and far less than it needs to keep its transmission lines and substations in good condition. . PREPA itself has faced lengthy accusations of poor management, and after Maria, senior company officials were accused of taking bribes to restore power supplies to favored customers. Today, the company still has $8.2 billion in debt.

Federal aid for post-Marian reconstruction also trickled in. FEMA allocated his $28 billion for recovery projects in Puerto Rico, but only his $5.3 billion of that money was spent ahead of Fiona. Many of the proposals to make the island’s grid more resilient had not yet been implemented.

In 2020, a private company called LUMA Energy took over the operation of Puerto Rico’s transmission system. But while electricity prices have more than doubled since January 2021, according to Martinez of the Natural Resources Defense Council, he has also faced criticism for poor performance. LUMA has pursued more natural gas power on the island, but global energy prices have soared this year. Competition for U.S. liquefied natural gas exports has intensified following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent cutbacks in Europe’s purchases of Russian natural gas. Sporadic blackouts continued under LUMA last year, sparking island-wide protests.

The transition to renewable energy is already underway, but not evenly spread

Puerto Rico has ambitions to do something different, picked up only after Maria. In 2019, the territorial government passed the Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act, ending the PREPA monopoly, setting a 2028 deadline for phasing out coal power, and making 40% of its electricity renewable by 2025 We sourced from Energy and required the island to be 100% sourced by 2050. .

Groups like Queremos Sol, meaning We Want the Sun, have helped advocate for this transition on the islands. and dividing the distribution network into microgrids so that a blackout in one region does not spread across the island. They also want to invest more in financing to enable low-income residents to acquire tools such as solar panels and batteries to secure more reliable power.

However, Puerto Rico is well behind schedule and some solar projects are struggling. Tesla’s efforts to install solar panels and batteries on the nearby island of Vieques were stalled by aging wiring and regulatory hurdles in people’s homes. Some officials are reluctant to actively switch to renewable energy.

“Puerto Rico could be a big experiment for the country as a whole, not just one experiment in renewable energy, but in having a diverse portfolio of energies,” said one of Puerto Rico’s non-voting members of Congress. Jennifer Gonzalez Colon told Politico in 2021…

At the same time, Puerto Ricans who can afford solar power are already doing so. But that means Puerto Rico’s utilities will have to split the cost of energy among a few customers, forcing higher prices for many people who can’t afford electricity. Puerto Rico’s population has also been declining over the past decade, and Maria has accelerated that trend.

“I think Puerto Rico needs to be very intentional about how they transition in a way that doesn’t harm disadvantaged people on the island,” Martinez said.

Puerto Rico is not alone in facing these challenges. A winter storm in Texas in 2021 not only caused massive power outages, but also drove some customers’ electricity bills up to her $17,000. Californians received an urgent text message earlier this month urging them to cut back on their power usage to avoid power outages as a heatwave pushed power demand to record highs. The US power grid is far more fragile than many realize. Fixing it will require more than just hardware, but a way to share the burden fairly.





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