Puerto Rico - Luma - Protest The ongoing outages have angered many who note that power fluctuations have fried costly appliances and forced them to find alternatives to keep life-saving medication cold as Puerto Rico's Energy Bureau has approved seven electricity rate increases so far this year at LUMA's request.
Image via AP Photo/Carlos Giusti, file.

Persistent power outages and threats from Puerto Rico’s government prompted the company to announce that it would dedicate more resources and crews to improve service.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — After a week in which hundreds of thousands of citizens and one of the most important private hospitals in the San Juan metro area were left without electricity, on Monday the singer René Pérez, also known as Residente, called for a protest against the power company LUMA.

The protest is scheduled for Aug. 25, 5 p.m., in front of La Fortaleza, the governor’s mansion. That section of Fortaleza street is popularly known as “Calle de la Resistencia,” because of the numerous massive protests that took place there in the “Verano del ’19,” when Puerto Ricans demanded the resignation of then-governor Ricardo Rosselló, after a chat scandal.

Because of the persistent power outages and recent threats from Puerto Rico’s government, LUMA, which manages the island’s electric transmission and distribution system, announced on Wednesday that it would dedicate more resources and crews to improving service.

The move came just hours after the island’s Senate launched a hearing to analyze the government’s contract with LUMA Energy — a consortium made up of Calgary, Alberta-based Atco and Quanta Services Inc. of Houston — amid calls to cancel it.

RELATED: Gov. Pierluisi Denounces LUMA’s Performance for the First Time

Among the top officials demanding that the government revoke the contract are Puerto Rico’s Senate President José Luis Dalmau, of the main opposition party, and Jenniffer González, Puerto Rico’s representative in Congress and a member of the governor’s party, who said power outages have become “our daily bread.”

LUMA said Wednesday that it would increase response brigades by 25% in the next month, remove vegetation covering 20 of the most critical transmission lines, increase inspections of substations — eight of which have caught on fire in the past year — and increase aerial inspections of remote transmission lines.

“We have made mistakes. We recognize our faults,” said Duke Austin, president and CEO of Quanta Services.

He said LUMA has reduced the duration of outages by one-third, but added that the company can do better.

“I’m not asking for forgiveness or patience,” he said. “I am out of both myself.”

LUMA has stressed it is dealing with a power grid whose maintenance the local government neglected for decades and that was razed by Hurricane María in September 2017, with reconstruction efforts having started just months ago. Prior to LUMA, Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority, which is more than $9 billion in debt, managed the grid’s transmission and distribution.

The ongoing outages have angered many who note that power fluctuations have fried costly appliances and forced them to find alternatives to keep life-saving medication cold as Puerto Rico’s Energy Bureau has approved seven electricity rate increases so far this year at LUMA’s request.

A day before LUMA made the announcement, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said the company would face consequences if it doesn’t improve its service, although he didn’t provide details of what action he would take.

“Time is going by, and my patience is running out,” he said. “Basically, they have to act, and act with a sense of urgency.”

Pierluisi first spoke out against LUMA last Thursday, a turnaround for a governor who had persistently defended the company ever since its contract began in June 2021. He said he became upset last week after learning that one recent outage was a result of not pruning vegetation around a main transmission line.

“That is completely unacceptable,” he said.

RELATED: Puerto Ricans Take to the Streets to Protest LUMA … Again

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s Energy Bureau issued a report late last week noting there’s been an overall increase in the duration of outages per customer every month since January, lasting more than 21 hours at a time. In addition, it stated there has been no improvement in the frequency of interruptions.

The bureau gave LUMA and Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority until Sept. 1 to explain the drop in those and other metrics as it threatened to impose penalties.