Puerto Rico Power Outages Lead to Local Electric Company Questions

Mar 20, 2018

Credit PPD / Pixnio

It was six months ago today that Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico. Today, there are still communities on the islands that either have no power or only intermittent electricity. One question for the state of Hawai‘i: how would our islands fare if we faced a similar situation? HPR Contributing Reporter Sherry Bracken took that question to power company officials on the Big Island to learn more.

Hurricane Maria devastated the Island of Puerto Rico in late September, 2017. Although officials say power should be fully restored by May, more than 100,000 customers today do not have power, and blackouts persist. Federal officials initially attributed a slow response to Puerto Rico’s distance from the United States mainland. Jay Ignacio, President of Hawai'i Electric Light Company, talks about what Hawai'i’s situation might be after a major storm.

“We’re further away from the U.S. Mainland than Puerto Rico, so we do have similar challenges. Power restoration would not be comparable to what U.S. mainland states experience, because pre-storm they preposition all the vehicles, they’re already putting materials outside of the impact zone so when the storm passes, they quickly deploy all of the resources. We do not enjoy that kind of situation. “

Ignacio says if HELCO, or any of the Hawaiian Electric companies needs help, they can turn to mainland companies, as part of The National Incident Management System.

“It’s basically a system so people operate in a standard fashion in emergencies, nationwide. We can use the same terminology, the same structure, in a very organized fashion.”

There is another factor which Ignacio thinks slowed down the response in Puerto Rico—the Puerto Rico electric utility was essentially bankrupt.

Downtown Hilo
Credit Wikimedia Commons

“A big part of being able to respond is the financial health of the utility—having the resources and the ability to quickly request assistance and financially commit to pay for resources.”

Ignacio said all the state’s utilities regularly prepare their infrastructure for storms.  Last year alone, HELCO spent $8 million dollars taking out trees, especially albizia, that might fall on poles in a storm.