SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Officials announced Monday that the reconstruction of Puerto Rico’s power grid is finally advancing nearly five years after Hurricane Maria struck the U.S. territory and devastated it.
More than $100 million in federal funds were secured for the first 15 of more than 200 reconstruction projects proposed after the Category 4 storm razed the aging power grid in September 2017.
A handful of projects were recently completed, including repairs to generation plants. Overall, 216 reconstruction projects are expected to be completed in the next eight years. Until now, only emergency projects had been completed.
“This is probably the most important project in Puerto Rico’s modern history,” said José Baquero, federal disaster recovery coordinator for the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In addition, 22,000 streetlights in five of the island’s 78 municipalities will be repaired starting this month. These include Aguada, Guánica, Lajas, Luquillo and Maunabo, which were given priority based on the crime rate, population and tourism of those areas, as well as the condition of street lights there, said Shay Bahramirad, a vice president with Luma, a private company that took over transmission and distribution of Puerto Rico’s power company a year ago.
Puerto Rico’s power grid has been struggling with ongoing outages and recent fires and explosions at some substations and reconstruction work coincides with the start of the hurricane season, which is expected to once again be unusually busy.
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi warned that the grid might not survive another powerful hurricane in its current state. In April, a fire at a power station sparked an island-wide power outage, with some clients left in the dark for a couple of days.
“We recognize that the system is still frail; it’s still outdated,” he said.
Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Company also remains mired in bankruptcy, holding some $9 billion in public debt, the largest of any government agency. While Puerto Rico is emerging from the largest U.S. municipal bankruptcy in history, some debt-restructuring deals, like the one involving the power company, have yet to be completed.
Authorities said the reconstruction projects would lessen the frequency of power outages that have frustrated many on the island of 3.2 million people, where many depend on emergency generators. In addition, customers have been hit with several power bill increases in recent months.
“We know there is impatience for it to be restructured and improved,” Pierluisi said. “These projects take time because we want to do it well.”
Officials said another 21 of the more than 200 reconstruction projects will likely be approved soon by FEMA. Meanwhile, FEMA also is funding $650 million worth of equipment for future projects given current problems securing parts.
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