Puerto Rico Faces Extensive Damage After Hurricane Maria

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Almost 30 percent of customers in Puerto Rico remain without power after four months from Hurricane Maria. An announcement from the island’s governor demonstrates that it could bring these people more stress than relief.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello announced that he is moving to privatize the public power company after its slow recovery from Hurricane Maria. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, power bills on the island have been double the average of the U.S. mainland due to the fact that imported fuel supplies three-fourths of the energy consumed in Puerto Rico.

“The Electric Power Authority has become a heavy burden for our people, who today are held hostage by its poor service and high cost,” Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. “The deficient and obsolete system of generation and distribution of energy is one of the great impediments to our economic development.”

Many blame the failure of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) for the lack of service on the island. Not only did PREPA offer a contract to a company out of Montana called Whitefish to help restore the electricity (which was later canceled), it also failed to distribute the parts needed in one of its warehouses as repairs went undone for lack of supplies.

Since PREPA is bankrupt, a federal judge needs to approve the sale, in addition to the island’s legislature. The process could take about 18 months. While the governor believes that this will bring more affordable electric bills and more reliable service, that might not be the case.

“Some people have faith that privatization will improve everything, but it’s not a guarantee,” said Puerto Rico economist Jose Caraballo to AP. “If a good deal isn’t hammered out, Puerto Rico can end up worse than it is.”

The island’s water and sewer company had been privatized, but the government had to take it back over in the early 2000s after problems with service, billing, and quality. Only time will tell if whoever buys the company is a good operator.