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Government Owned Electricity Systems – Puerto Rico’s Still Partially Without Power After 10 Months

One of our home grown little debates in Britain is whether the power companies – all the utilities actually – should be renationalised. At which point we’d probaly like to have a little study of what is the best manner of organising, managing and owning such vital pieces of national infrastructure. One argument could be that it doesn’t matter very much therefore we can allow the politicians to ruin it in a manner we couldn’t with something more vital. That is though rather begging the question.

Puerto Rico has just had a massive disaster which pretty much brought down the entire electricity system. How’s it doing on getting it back up again?

Diana Vera-Maldonado, Jose Ruiz Gonzalez and their children in front of their house with the disconnected power line. Photograph: Angel Valentin for the Guardian
They have eaten by candlelight for the past 10 months, powerless and isolated.

Their small home, with its wooden walls and tin roof, nestled high up in the hills of Utuado province, somehow survived Hurricane Maria without a scratch. Most others in the surrounding area of this mountainous region were swept apart by the wind. But the hurricane’s raw strength last September didn’t leave everything on their property unscathed. It uprooted a mango tree a few metres down their steep pathway, which crashed onto a pylon that had brought electricity up the slope for 23 years and cut this family of four off from the grid for almost a year.

10 months to get just the one pylon back up again? Hmm:

Hours after Puerto Rico officials announced that power had finally been restored to almost all of the island’s residents — almost a year after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory — a new problem with the power grid reportedly plunged thousands of people into the dark once more.

Puerto Rico’s electric provider tweeted Monday that just 0.002 percent of its nearly 1.4 million customers (some 25 people) remained without electricity, marking a significant milestone in what’s been a long and challenging post-Maria recovery journey.

A lightly different result but it’s still telling us that it took them 10 months. So, now we need to look at who runs and owns that power system:

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) —Spanish: Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica (AEE)— is an electric power company and the government-owned corporation of Puerto Rico responsible for electricity generation, power distribution, and power transmission on the island.[1] PREPA is the only entity authorized to conduct such business in Puerto Rico, making it a government monopoly. The authority is ruled by a board of directors appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. Since 2014, PREPA is subject to the Puerto Rico Energy Commission, another government agency whose board of directors is also appointed by the governor.

Oh, that’s a marvellous argument in favour of the government ownership and management of a utility, isn’t it?

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5 years ago

Government ownership certainly, but interestingly, *municipal* ownership seemed to actually work. At least where I have local experience, Sheffield (big city) and Whitby (small town). Both had well-run well-functioning, efficient, deeply-penetrating municipally-owned electricity concerns until they were confiscated in 1947. It would well be that those running the system were a lot closer to the consumers. Certainly in Whitby if the leccy went kaput you could go down the street and bash on the door of the chief engineer. And for many people the leccy people were family, and you didn’t want to piss off your granny by letting her… Read more »

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
5 years ago
Reply to  jgh

Hull ran its own telephone system (until 1987, when it became Kingston Communications, now KCOM) which had its faults, but did a reasonable job, certainly better than the GPO at the time. Remembered for the white phone boxes.

5 years ago

In short, those running it would pay a price (chiefly production of sweat) for making poor decisions. In contrast, how often do you ring up your MP and get results? Your MEP?

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