The majority of power customers in Puerto Rico who were left in the dark earlier this week following a massive blackout that affected over a million residents had their electricity restored on Saturday.
The two entities in charge of providing electric services to 1.5 million power customers in Puerto Rico said their crews have been working hard since Wednesday night when a circuit-breaker at the Costa Sur generation plant, one of four main plants on the island, caught fire and caused the remaining power plants to shut down.
Power has been restored to at least 1.3 million customers as of late Saturday morning, according to Luma Energy, the Canadian-American private company that took over Puerto Rico’s power transmission and distribution last year.
As roughly 87 percent of customers gained access to electricity, Luma Energy also urged consumers to limit their power use in order to avoid energy demand upticks that could hinder the ongoing restoration process at some of the main power plants.
Workers from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the bankrupt public corporation in charge of controlling power generation units, have reconnected at least seven of the shutdown plants.
On Saturday morning, the power authority said on Twitter that it started working on reconnecting Puerto Rico’s two largest power plants, Costa Sur and EcoEléctrica.
"As long as the EcoEléctrica and Costa Sur units are not in service, the system will not have the required energy reserve," to deal with setbacks, the power authority said in Spanish.
Costa Sur, the largest power plant in Puerto Rico, represents 57 percent of the island’s natural gas-fired electricity generating capacity. A series of strong earthquakes that struck southern Puerto Rico in 2020 significantly damaged both Costa Sur and EcoEléctrica.
The massive outage has enraged Puerto Ricans who already pay almost twice as much as customers in the U.S. mainland for unreliable electricity.
On Friday evening, about a hundred outraged protesters marched in front of Luma Energy’s headquarters. Some even threw eggs at the building and dropped off bags of spoiled groceries that went bad after people were unable to refrigerate them because of the outage.
As the roar of generators and smell of diesel filled Puerto Rico's air for more than two consecutive days, the local fire department said they responded to at least 17 fires caused by generators. Two people were injured as a result of the fires, NBC’s sister station Telemundo Puerto Rico reported.
Puerto Rico’s electricity system was decimated by Hurricane Maria in 2017, triggering the world’s second-longest blackout. Emergency repairs were made at the time, but the reconstruction and essential work to modernize the island’s antiquated electric grid has not yet begun. Power company officials blame aging, ill-maintained infrastructure for the ongoing outages.
The federal government has already committed $12 billion in aid toward revamping Puerto Rico’s energy sector. According to Luma, part of that money is currently being used to replace outdated breakers like the one that blew up at the Costa Sur generation plant.
In a news conference Thursday afternoon outside the damaged power plant, a Luma Energy official said many of the breakers being replaced are over 40 years old — though this piece of equipment normally has a 30-year lifespan.
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority is still in the process of restructuring its $9 billion in public debt, the largest of any U.S. public corporation when it declared bankruptcy in 2017.
This is not the first time that power station fires have caused blackouts in Puerto Rico. Last June, a large fire at a substation in San Juan left 900,000 customers without power. Another fire at a power plant in September 2016 caused an islandwide blackout.
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