Representatives from a wide coalition of community and labor groups in Puerto Rico testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources today to share their concerns about LUMA Energy, the company that has privatized the majority of Puerto Rico’s public utility, PREPA. They urged the Committee to investigate the company’s operation on the island, as well as its assertion that it should control federal funds for electric system work in Puerto Rico.
Beginning in June, LUMA took over the transmission and distribution of energy in Puerto Rico in a public-private partnership with PREPA. Since LUMA assumed control of everything except the operation of generation plants, island residents have experienced daily power outages, destructive voltage fluctuations, and fires sparked by electrical malfunctions that have caused hundreds of thousands of people to lose power for extended periods of time. LUMA is also proposing additional rate hikes despite the fact that Puerto Ricans have already shouldered four rate increases this year alone and already pay higher energy bills than people in the mainland United States.
On the line are $9.6 billion in taxpayer funds the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) allocated to the Puerto Rican government to solve the island’s energy crisis. Studies show these funds could cover a new distributed solar energy grid that would provide Puerto Rico with reliable, renewable power, end the energy crisis, and stop the island’s dependence on imported fossil fuels. Instead, the government is requesting around $14 billion in federal funds for the electric system, most of which would be for transmission and new gas-fired plants that completely shut out renewables and would remain highly vulnerable to future hurricanes.
In his testimony, Earthjustice expert witness Dr. Agustín Irizarry stated: “I have been studying electric power systems, in general, and the Puerto Rico power system in particular for over 25 years. I believe LUMA Energy’s operation of our electric system has been detrimental to the well-being of hundreds of thousands of residents of Puerto Rico… I am part the Queremos Sol (“We Want Sun”), multi-sectoral coalition of Puerto Rican community, environmental and labor organizations, that put forward in 2018 a policy proposal for the renewable energy transformation of Puerto Rico’s electrical system under a reformed public ownership model… Our study shows that a grid with distributed generation based on rooftop solar and storage for homes and businesses can operate safely and reliably, saving money and stabilizing prices… There is no need for investment in fossil fuel-based power plants.”
In her testimony, Ruth Santiago, Earthjustice board member, lawyer, and environmental justice advocate, stated: “We ask this Committee to urge the federal government to require that the historic and once-in-a-lifetime amount of FEMA funds are allocated for the Puerto Rico electric system for rooftop solar, battery systems, and energy efficiency programs that will provide life-saving electric service to the residents of Puerto Rico. Multiple studies have shown the viability, reliability and economic benefits of rooftop solar and storage in Puerto Rico.”