Energy Justice in Puerto Rico: On the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, Hurricane Fiona exposes the continuing failures of Puerto Rico’s energy system
October 17, 2022 by Megan Bechtel
By Megan Bechtel, Staff Editor
On September 18, 2022, Category One Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico, bringing over 30-inches of rain to some areas of the island and leaving all 1.5 million of the island’s electrical customers without power. Two weeks later, over 100,000 customers remained powerless. Fiona came five years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, leaving many residents without power for 11-months, making it the longest ever U.S. blackout. Hurricane Fiona and other outages this year, including an April 2022 island-wide blackout, reveal the continuing vulnerabilities of Puerto Rico’s electric system despite billions of dollars of funding, new management of the island’s electric system, and other efforts to rebuild infrastructure after Hurricane Maria.
In June 2020, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) signed a 15-year agreement with private company LUMA Energy to operate the transmission and distribution of the island’s electric system. Hopes that this public-private partnership would bring safety, reliability, and affordability to Puerto Rico’s energy system have gone largely unfulfilled as both the frequency of blackouts and energy rates have increased under LUMA management.
Weeks before Hurricane Fiona, hundreds of people gathered in San Juan to protest against LUMA, asking government officials to cancel the contract and demanding “Fuera LUMA” (“LUMA get out”). Protests by residents and activists are not new, but Puerto Rican Governor Pedro Pierluisi publicly criticized the company for the first time in August, stating his dissatisfaction with LUMA’s performance. Following Hurricane Fiona, leaders from the U.S. Energy and Commerce Committee requested information from LUMA about how the company allocates its money and prepares the energy system for emergencies. New York Attorney General Letitia James called for a federal investigation into the energy company.
Puerto Rico’s reliance on a centralized power system managed by LUMA and fueled mostly by imported natural gas has put the health, safety, and education of Puerto Ricans, 40% of whom live below the poverty line, at risk. It’s clear that any solution to Puerto Rico’s energy crisis should consider storms like Maria and Fiona the norm, especially as climate change increases the likelihood of extreme weather. Community groups and environmental activists, like group Quermos Sol (“We Want Sun”) and lawyer Ruth Santiago, have called for an increase in distributed solar to strengthen the reliability of the grid and increase energy equity. Despite the Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act setting an interim goal for the island to source 40% of its electricity from renewables by 2025, only 3% of the island’s electricity came from renewables in 2021, and much of the solar has been utilized only by those who can afford it. Other scholars have urged that efforts need to go beyond adaptation plans — real change must include major reevaluations of Puerto Rico’s colonialist underpinnings, the debt crisis, and political structure.
While rebuilding the infrastructure after Hurricane Maria was always going to be a challenge, the energy failures following Hurricane Fiona make clear that federal and local leaders have failed the people of Puerto Rico, who deserve reliable and affordable energy.
 Becky Sullivan, More than 100,000 clients in Puerto Rico are still without power 2 weeks after Fiona, NPR (Oct. 2, 2022, 11:29 AM), https://www.npr.org/2022/10/02/1126462352/puerto-rico-hurricane-fiona-luma-energy-power-outages.
 Kellie Lunney, Why Puerto Rico Has Struggled to Stabilize Its Electricity Grid, Bloomberg Government, (Sept. 30, 2022, 5:30 AM), https://about.bgov.com/news/why-puerto-rico-has-struggled-to-stabilize-its-electricity-grid/.
 Tom Sanzillo, Contract Between Puerto Rico, LUMA Energy Sets up Full Privatization, Higher Rates for Island Grid 1 (2020).
 Lunney, supra note 3.
 Angely Mercado, ‘LUMA, Get Out’: Puerto Ricans Clash With Police in Protests Against Power Company, Gizmodo (Sept. 2, 2022, 12:05 PM), https://gizmodo.com/puerto-rico-luma-protests-2022-1849480931.
 Dánica Coto, Puerto Rico governor denounces power company amid outages, Associated Press, Aug. 18, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/puerto-rico-pedro-pierluisi-quanta-services-inc-climate-and-environment-5049018d7ae13c5fe09a6b054c2d177d.
 Press Release, Energy and Com. Comm. Chairman Frank Pallone Jr., E&C Leaders Demand Answers from LUMA Energy in Wake of Puerto Rico’s Power Outages from Hurricane Fiona (Sept. 27, 2022), https://energycommerce.house.gov/newsroom/press-releases/ec-leaders-demand-answers-from-luma-energy-in-wake-of-puerto-rico-s-power.
 Press Release, Attorney General Letitia James, Attorney General James Calls for Investigation into Puerto Rico Energy Provider (Sept. 20, 2022), https://ag.ny.gov/press-release/2022/attorney-general-james-calls-investigation-puerto-rico-energy-provider.
 Umar Irfan, Why all Americans should be paying attention to Puerto Rico’s power Grid, Vox (Sept. 21, 2022, 11:34 AM), https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/23362974/puerto-rico-fiona-blackout-outage-power-electricity; Izzie Ramirez, The real source of Puerto Rico’s woes, Vox (Oct. 10, 2022, 7:00 AM), https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2022/10/10/23391700/puerto-rico-hurricane-recovery-colonialism-debt.
 Miranda Fox, Puerto Ricans Demand Solar Energy and Accountability for Power Mismanagement at Congressional Hearing, Earthjustice (Oct. 6, 2021), https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2021/puerto-ricans-demand-solar-energy-and-accountability-for-power-mismanagement-at-congressional-hearing.
 Irfan, supra note 11.
 Ramirez, supra note 11.