Puerto Rico Experiences an Island-Wide Blackout: What You Need To Know

Puerto Rico
(Photo: Crews work to restore power in Puerto Rico on Wednesday. Credit: PREPA on Twitter)

The entire island of Puerto Rico lost power on Wednesday. More than 1.4 million Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) customers were affected.

Officials said the blackout was caused when an excavator accidentally downed a transmission line, the Associated Press reported. This was the second massive outage in less than a week — one last Thursday affected 840,000 customers, the AP’s Danica Coto noted. Both were caused by the same contractor, authorities said.

“The outage snarled traffic across the island, interrupted classes and work, and forced dozens of businesses to temporarily close, including the largest mall and popular tourist attractions like a 16th Century fort in the historic part of Puerto Rico’s capital,” Coto wrote. Wednesday was the first island-wide blackout since Hurricane Maria tore through on September 20, 2017.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • PREPA or Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica (AEE) in Spanish, has a generating capacity of 6,023 MW and peak demand of 3,685 MW, according to 2013 data
  • In October 2017, Mammoth Energy subsidiary Cobra Acquisitions won a $200 million PREPA contract to help repair and reconstruct Puerto Rico’s utility infrastructure over the course of the next four months
  • On Wednesday, government officials said a company called Dgrimm that Cobra Energy had hired was involved in both outages in the past week, Coto reported
  • When an excavator accidentally downed a transmission line near Puerto Rico’s south coast, the backup breaker at a main power station failed to work and the entire grid went down to protect itself, Coto explained

Commercial customers make up approximately 47% of PREPA’s rate base, while industrial customers are around 12%, according to PREPA’s fiscal plan from January.

In 2016, 47% of Puerto Rico’s electricity came from petroleum, 34% from natural gas, 17% from coal, and 2% from renewable energy, the EIA reports. Last year, prior to Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico’s retail consumers paid more for their power than consumers in any US state except Hawaii, the EIA says.

By late afternoon Wednesday, power was returning to hospitals and several municipalities. As evening fell, clients in Santurce and Guaynabo had power restored and the central unit in San Juan was generating enough power to normalize the electric system, Earther reported.

Speaking to reporters about Dgrimm, the company that caused the recent blackouts, PREPA deputy director Justo González said, “They will not work with us again,” journalist Walter Soto León tweeted.PREPA said that restoring power could take 24 to 36 hours. Coto noted that around 40,000 power customers on the island still remain without normal electrical service due to the hurricane.

“Hurricane Maria produced the largest blackout in US history, according to a study released last week by Rhodium Group LLC, an economic consultancy,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “It has caused 3.4 billion lost customer-hours in Puerto Rico — more than in the rest of the US over the past five years.”

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