Repair or Rebuild: Options for Electric Power in Puerto Rico Page: 6 of 39
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Repair or Rebuild: Options for Electric Power in Puerto Rico
On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm
with sustained wind speeds of over 155 miles per hour. The hurricane also brought torrential
rainfall with a range of 15 to 25 inches in many areas and 40 inches or more in isolated spots.'
This resulted in widespread flooding across the island. Puerto Rico's office of emergency
management reported that the storm had incapacitated the central electric power system, leaving
the entire island without power. Puerto Rico's grid infrastructure was essentially destroyed by
Hurricane Maria. Recovery efforts from Hurricane Maria focused on restoring electricity to
hospitals, water treatment plants, and some industries. However, the Commonwealth of Puerto
Rico (the Commonwealth) was already in recovery mode following the glancing blow struck by
Hurricane Irma on September 6, 2017, which left 70% of electricity customers without power.
After Maria, officials were estimating that many of Puerto Rico's 3.5 million people could be
without electricity for up to six months.
Even before the 2017 hurricane season, Puerto Rico's electric power infrastructure was known to
be in poor condition, due largely to underinvestment and poor maintenance. Questions are now
being raised as to possible options for rebuilding the electricity grid on the island, given the
financial debt of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority2 (PREPA) before the damage from the
storms.' PREPA's current debts at the end of 2016 totaled about $9 billion.4 PREPA is overseen
by a board appointed by the Puerto Rican governor. Some have blamed much of PREPA's woes
on governance issues.5
Hurricanes Irma and Maria brought the electricity system's problems to a head, as power outages
before the first storm6 were eclipsed in magnitude by the island-wide power outages brought on
by the destruction of the second storm. Power outages in Puerto Rico have been common, as an
apparent lack of maintenance and vegetation management practices have contributed to power
outages.' Some have questioned PREPA's dispensing with long-established practices (e.g., a
request for proposals) following its posthurricane decision to give a major repair and
1 National Hurricane Center, "Local Statement for Maria," September 20, 2017. http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/text/
2 In Spanish, the Autoridad de Energia El6ctrica (AEE).
3 PREPA's debt-about $9 billion-is larger than that of any other operational U.S. public corporation. See CRS
Insight IN10747, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and Debt Restructuring Under PROMESA, P.L. 114-187, by D.
Andrew Austin and Richard J. Campbell.
4 PREPA, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority Fiscal Plan, April 28, 2017, pp. 18-20; http://www.aafaf.pr.gov/assets/
5 "PREPA's problems did not arise overnight, or even in a few years-they developed and intensified over a period of
decades. During this time, management and other strategic decisions, including staffing and capital investment, were
too often based on political or electoral considerations rather than best practices or business imperatives. As a result of
this dynamic, PREPA suffered from regular employee reassignments and had difficulty conducting rational long-term
planning, which compounded existing challenges." U.S. Congress, House Committee on Natural Resources,
Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Exploring Energy Challenges and Opportunities Facing Puerto Rico,
Statement of Lisa J. Donahue, 114th Cong., 2nd sess., January 12, 2016, p. 2.
6 Ruben Vives and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, "Puerto Rico's Debt-Plagued Power Grid Was on Life Support Long Before
Hurricanes Wiped It Out," Los Angeles Times, September 28, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-puerto-rico-
7 An expert report stated that "A review of the utility's records shows a rapidly increasing generation outage rate, and
customer outage levels four to five times higher than other U.S. utilities." Jeremy I. Fischer and Ariel I. Horowitz,
Expert Report: State of PREPA 's System, Puerto Rico Energy Commission Matter CEPR-AP-2015-0001, November
23, 2016, p. 28.
Congressional Research Service
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Campbell, Richard J.; Clark, Corrie E. & Austin, D. Andrew. Repair or Rebuild: Options for Electric Power in Puerto Rico, report, November 16, 2017; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1043179/m1/6/: accessed April 19, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.