Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González grilled Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority Executive Director Walter Higgins and his staff on progress to restore 100 percent of the island’s electricity and on the system’s reliability, a month away from the start of this year’s hurricane season.
PREPA’s recovery work to restore the electrical system — which was nearly entirely crippled by last year’s powerful back-to-back Hurricane’s Irma and María — is one of the issues Congressman Rob Bishop, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Natural Resources, has addressed during his recent visit to the island.
He requested the meeting with PREPA to learn the status of the system, the Resident Commissioner’s office informed.
González questioned PREPA’s official figure stating that 98 percent of customers have had electrical service restored, given that she continues to receive complaints from mayors and communities over a lack of energy.
Higgins said those were estimates and said the number of customers still without service is concentrated in the central and southeast portions of the island.
During public hearings in several Congressional committees, Colón pushed to get U.S. Corps of Engineers brigades to extend their stay in Puerto Rico to achieve the restoration of electric service, securing an extension until May 18.
At the meeting, she drew attention to the looming date, to which Higgins reportedly responded that PREPA has contracted three companies to continue the recovery work once the U.S. Corps of Engineers exits later this month.
González also expressed concern over the lack of electricity at the island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra, which operate based on generators, rather than by PREPA-owned submarine transmission cables.
During his visit, Bishop did a fly-over Puerto Rico’s power distribution lines, getting a first-hand look at how tough some of them are to reach and repair. The lawmaker also visited the Cabezas de San Juan ecological reserve in Fajardo as part of the assessment of Hurricanes Irma and María’s damage to nature.
The ravage of the back-to-back storms last September is still evident at some of the reserve’s beaches that remain dried-out because the saltpeter burned vegetation, and on the lighthouse — erected in 1882 and included in the National Register of Historic sites — whose roof was damaged. The reserve opened to the public in January.