PREPA Customers Still Without Power in Puerto Rico

(Photo: Power line workers in Puerto Rico. Credit: Lorie Shaull, Flickr Creative Commons)

Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA)’s leadership is suddenly in flux as its customers continue to go without power after Hurricane Maria wrought destruction on the island last fall. This week, the utility’s latest CEO and five of the seven board members resigned.

These shakeups are just the latest in a series facing bankrupt PREPA, Utility Dive’s Gavin Bade reported. CEO Walter Higgins announced Wednesday that he was stepping down over salary issues.

“Higgins was hired in March on a $450,000 contract, with the potential to make twice as much if he hit certain performance contracts,” Bade wrote. “Prior to that, PREPA was led by interim director Justo González, who was appointed by [Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo] Rosselló last November after then-CEO Ricardo Ramos resigned over a contracting controversy with Montana firm Whitefish.”

When the board stepped in to replace Higgins with former GE executive Rafael Diaz-Granados, they offered him a $750,000 contract. Rosselló criticized the decision yesterday, saying that the board needed to reduce the amount or resign — and five of them did.

“The salary granted by the governing board of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to the new executive director is not proportional to the financial condition of PREPA, to the financial situation of the government, or to the feeling of the people who are making sacrifices to raise Puerto Rico,” the governor said, according to Reuters.

Since Hurricane Maria struck, PREPA has gone through four CEOs, Reuters Karen Pierog and Jessica Resnick-Ault pointed out. “The resignations come at a time when several thousand homes and businesses still lack power, and as PREPA is well shy of the fundamental improvements needed to withstand another hurricane,” they wrote.

In April, the entire island lost power, affecting more than 1.4 million PREPA customers. That blackout, the second major outage in less than a week, was caused when an excavator accidentally brought down a transmission line. Last week 24,000 residential and business customers lost power due to Tropical Storm Beryl.

Puerto Rico, a US commonwealth, is currently in federal court trying to restructure around $70 billion of debt, the Reuters reporters noted. PREPA alone has more than $14 billion in liabilities and is going through a privatization process, they added.

“The US Army Corps said this week it would remove three generators, which provide backup at Puerto Rico’s power plants, as soon as next week,” they wrote. “The Corps had previously agreed to leave them in place until PREPA agreed to buy them.”

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