Power Returning to Puerto Rico, but Frustrations Remain

Electricity has been restored to 90% of Puerto Rico, according to the island’s electric operator, although more than 200,000 residents were left without power on Saturday, three days after the blackout began.

Electricity for more than 1.2 million customers returned on Saturday afternoon, the island’s electricity operator, Luma Energy, said. But in addition to the residents who were still waiting, many customers across the island who saw their power turn back on were still experiencing service outages.

“We encouraged all of our customers to save energy throughout the weekend,” said Wayne Stensby, CEO of Luma. “It’s in everyone’s interest that they be as careful with their energy as possible.”

Mr Stensby added that the system would not be fully operational right away. “The system hasn’t returned to its normal state yet and it probably won’t until later in the weekend,” he said.

The outage, which began on Wednesday after a fire at one of Luma’s biggest power stations, is just the latest in a series of problems with the island’s power grid that have persisted for years. Last June, Luma, a private Canadian-American consortium, took over power transmission and distribution from the Puerto Rico utility with a commitment to reduce outages.

Frustration over the latest outage led to a demonstration on Friday, with more than 100 protesters gathering outside the San Juan headquarters of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, where Luma operates. Several parcels of meat and fish were left outside the entrance to the building to protest against the thousands of families who had to throw away their food purchases.

Irma Raquel López Torres, who lives in the town of Vega Baja, said her family waited more than an hour at a gas station on Friday to get fuel for their generator. Ms López Torres, who said she was already coping with rising petrol prices and recovering from bariatric surgery last month, now also depends on her generator to power her apnea therapy device some sleep.

“It feels like Hurricane Maria again,” Ms López Torres said, referring to the 2017 storm that left some islanders without power for more than a year. “There are so many older people in my community. I think of them, and some are home alone and don’t have the luxury of having a generator.

Luma said a faulty circuit breaker at the Costa Sur power station may have caused Wednesday’s outage. Mr Stensby said the company was still investigating the cause of the circuit breaker failure and the investigation could take weeks.

“This circuit breaker will be examined forensically to better understand the root cause of this failure,” he said.

Whatever the source of the outage, residents remained exasperated by the island’s energy problems.

In Río Grande, just east of San Juan, Milton Falero Santiago decided to run his restaurant with his generator. His usual traffic of customers, who pass his brunch en route to the precious El Yunque rainforest on the island, was sparse compared to a typical Saturday morning, he said. Apart from the lack of electricity, Mr. Falero also faced fluctuating water pressure, and he said he feared the water could stop flowing at any moment.

“We had to get disposable plates, spoons and cups in case the water ran out,” Falero said. “Everyone who arrives is angry because it’s not even hurricane season and we have to go through it.”