Puerto Rico Power Company Fires Back as Congress Demands Answers to Ongoing Outages

A Puerto Rican power company fired back Friday after the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources ordered Luma, which is in charge of transmission and distribution of power on the island, to release key data as outages in the U.S. territory persist, the Associated Press reported.

Luma must submit the data by October 22, including how many maintenance workers it employs, how long one generation unit will be inoperable and the compensation and titles of employees with salaries above $200,000 a year.

The demand in a letter sent by the committee was issued just days after officials, including company CEO Wayne Stensby, testified before the committee.

"Many of your answers were incomplete. You refused to answer others," said the committee, which oversees U.S. territorial affairs.

Without addressing the questions and concerns raised by the committee, Luma said in a Friday statement that its 31,000-plus employees work hard despite "the numerous and very difficult challenges from those that oppose the transformation," adding that there has been a lot of misinformation.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

PR Power Outages
The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources ordered a Puerto Rican energy company in charge of transmission and distribution of power on the island to release key data as outages persist. Above, a wooden Puerto Rican flag is displayed on the dock of the Condado lagoon, where multiple selective blackouts have been recorded in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 30, 2021. Power outages across the island have surged in recent weeks, with some lasting up to several days. Carlos Giusti/AP Photo

Luma previously was sued by Puerto Rico's House of Representatives for similar information, with the island's Supreme Court ordering the company to turn over the data, although that hasn't occurred. At the time, Stensby said the company is private and the information confidential.

The outages have forced schools and workplaces to close and sparked concern for those who depend on insulin or oxygen. The lack of power also has led to losses at thousands of businesses across the island, including a small store that Carmen Lydia de Jesús owns in the central mountain town of Ciales.

She estimates she has lost $6,000 as a result of not being able to open her business, noting that power surges also sparked a fire at her house and caused more than $4,000 in damage.

"It's a miracle I wasn't burned," she said. "We can't continue like this. This is abusive."

Luma took the reins of Puerto Rico's transmission and distribution on June 1 and has faced sharp criticism ever since. The U.S. House committee letter said that in some cases, conditions have worsened since Luma took over. Legislators demanded information including the number and length of outages, the causes behind every service disruption and the number of voltage fluctuations that caused property damage.

Current and former government officials have blamed the outages on the retirement of experienced employees and a lack of maintenance of generation units owned and managed by Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority. They also note the power grid remains fragile after Hurricane Maria struck the island in September of 2017 as a Category 4 storm, and that reconstruction has yet to start.

On Friday, the power authority's governing board approved a declaration of a state of emergency to speed up contracts and the purchases of costly equipment, although Governor Pedro Pierluisi said he didn't feel it was needed since the authority was already authorized to do that.