Power Returning to Puerto Rico, but Frustrations Remain

Power has been restored to 90 percent of Puerto Rico, according to the island’s power operator, though more than 200,000 residents remained without electricity on Saturday, three days after the outage began.

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

“We’ve been encouraging all of our customers to conserve energy through the weekend,” Wayne Stensby, the chief executive of Luma, said. “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 is not back to its normal state yet and it likely won’t be until later into the weekend,” he said.

The outage, which started on Wednesday after a fire at one of Luma’s largest power plants, is only the latest in a series of problems with the island’s energy grid that has persisted for years. Last June, Luma, a private Canadian American consortium, took over electricity transmission and distribution from Puerto Rico’s public utility with a pledge to reduce outages.

Frustration over the latest outage led to a protest on Friday, with over 100 demonstrators gathering in front of the headquarters in San Juan of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, where Luma operates. Several packages of meat and fish were placed in front of the building’s entrance in protest of the thousands of families who have had to throw away food purchases.

Protesters on Friday expressed their frustration with Luma Energy, the company that manages Puerto Rico’s electricity. Credit…Ricardo Arduengo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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 her generator. Ms. López Torres, who said she was already contending with higher gas prices and her recovery from bariatric surgery last month, now depends on her generator to power her sleep apnea therapy machine as well.

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

Luma said that a failed circuit breaker at the Costa Sur power plant could have caused the outage on Wednesday. Mr. Stensby said that the company was still investigating what made the breaker fail and that the investigation could take weeks.

“That breaker will be forensically examined to better understand the root cause of that failure,” he said.

Whatever the source of the outage, residents remained exasperated with the island’s energy woes.

In Río Grande, just east of San Juan, Milton Falero Santiago decided to keep his restaurant operating with his generator. His usual traffic of clients, who come across his brunch spot on their way to the island’s treasured El Yunque rainforest, was sparse compared with a typical Saturday morning, he said. Besides the lack of power, Mr. Falero was also dealing with fluctuating water pressure, and he said he feared that the water could stop flowing at any point.

“We had to get disposable plates, spoons and cups in case the water goes out,” Mr. Falero said. “Everyone that’s coming in is mad because it’s not even hurricane season and we have to go through this.”

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