Puerto Rico‘s top energy executive on Thursday warned that the United States territory’s largest power plant could remain off line for up to a year because of earthquake damage, evoking memories of lengthy power outages that followed a pair of hurricanes in 2017.
Two days after being hit by Puerto Rico’s most powerful earthquake in more than a century, only half of the Caribbean island had power restored, Jose Ortiz, executive director of the public utility Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), told the island’s WKAQ radio.
The PREPA-owned Costa Sur plant near the quake’s epicentre was seriously damaged and could remain off line “perhaps up to one year”, Ortiz said, raising the prospect of bringing in temporary generators with aid from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
A series of earthquakes, including one of 6.4 magnitude early Tuesday, rocked Puerto Rico. Periodic aftershocks continue to rattle the island of three million people, which has yet to fully recover from Hurricanes Maria and Irma. Those storms, both in 2017, killed nearly 3,000 people.
At the same time, Puerto Rico is going through a wrenching bankruptcy process to restructure about $120bn of debt and pension obligations, and it was roiled by political instability in August when former Governor Ricardo Rossello resigned following massive street protests over derisive private-chat messages that he shared with those in his inner circle.
PREPA, also known by its Spanish AEE, is in arrears on some $9bn in debt, and now faces up to a year without energy from Costa Sur, which has a capacity of 990 megawatts.
“Costa Sur is a disaster,” Ortiz said. “There is structural damage and damage to equipment. Repairs could take months, perhaps up to one year. It’s really unsafe to be there right now. It’s life-threatening. Yesterday when we were inspecting it with the people from FEMA we had to leave when an aftershock started.”
Without the Costa Sur facility, Puerto Rico would need the rest of its power plants to operate at or near peak capacity to meet demand.
Puerto Rico endured lengthy power outages following Hurricane Maria, exacerbating the humanitarian disaster.
Nearly a year passed before electricity generation approached pre-hurricane levels, according to a November report by the US Energy Information Administration.
Puerto Rico also relied on temporary generators following the hurricanes. Ortiz said PREPA was looking for a company to supply them.
The quakes killed at least one person, destroyed or damaged about 300 homes, and led Governor Wanda Vazquez to declare a state of emergency.