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Op-Ed: The commercial mission in Spain and the massive 4-day blackout

As my wife and I were having dinner at our regular Italian place, the lights slowly went out in the restaurant; some 10 seconds later, the generator kicked in, and we continued our dinner. We checked our monitoring system at home to find that the streets had gone dark, and our standby generator had begun working.

Thinking the worst, we hurried home to find during our 25-minute ride to see that Puerto Rico had gone dark again. As we turned the radio on, we realized the magnitude of the problem was a dramatic failure due to a fire in the systems patio of the Costa Sur power station.

Immediately we began thinking as to how long the outage would last, and we hoped our preparations would be enough to face yet another power crisis.

As we were going to bed, I remembered the Puerto Rico commercial trade mission in Spain facing prospective investors during breakfast due to the six-hour time difference. The following morning as I was reading the Spanish Newspaper El País to see if there was any coverage of the Puerto Rico trade mission, I stumbled upon a pictorial in El País that said, “Massive Blackout takes Puerto Rico into darkness.” 

The pictorial contains just 10 photos of Puerto Ricans facing four days without power. We wonder how difficult it must be to sell the best of Puerto Rico to outside investors, a position that I often found myself doing in the last thirty years, under the news of a massive blackout. Meanwhile, some sectors were claiming why the governor did not return, and currently with the ease of communications, phone, email, and texts the governor was completely on top of the issues.

In my view, it was more important for the governor to remain in the Spain trade mission as planned and properly represent Puerto Rico. The delegation of powers was for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, LUMA, and the top government officials to do their job with guidance from the governor as needed, and such guidance can be provided from any part of the world.

LUMA Energy and PREPA dealing with the blackout
As I reflected on this issue in my office, the first of three press conferences began with the government officials, PREPA, and LUMA Energy. From the first press conference, I realized that the LUMA spokesperson had no clue what he was talking about since he said that while they did not know what had happened in 24 hours, the power would be restored.

As I saw the photos and remembered past events, specifically the Palo Seco fire and the Monacillos incident, and compared the Costa Sur photos, there was no way the damage could be fixed in 24 hours.

Hence the first pillar of crisis management was broken by LUMA’s Kevin Acevedo; in these situations, spokespersons must speak the truth, stating the facts clearly, communicating with compassion, and speaking with empathy. Acevedo made the biggest mistake of all; he misinformed the people of Puerto Rico.

However, during the third press conference, flanked by an expert and reputable leader like Josué Colón and with Justice Secretary Domingo Emmanuelli serving as Interim Governor and the Governors’ Chief of Staff Noelia García.

LUMA made the sorriest display of knowledge, empathy, and judgment that I have ever witnessed. The LUMA spokesperson claimed, that it was great that the power outage had made national and international news as, according to him, it keeps Puerto Rico in the news.

The LUMA spokesperson also said that LUMA was doing a fantastic job, and the Puerto Ricans know it. What, in my view, was the worst possible insult to 3.2 million fellow citizens was to use prose to minimalize the power outage situation by saying, “Do not let a late snowstorm ruin a beautiful spring.”

We cringed then and still cringe now as we remember these words of ineptitude, arrogance, and lack of empathy. LUMA should have never allowed the use of a spokesperson with less than 60 days of experience in an energy company to face such a complex incident.

As Puerto Ricans, we have earned and deserve respect from any company that operates in Puerto Rico, so LUMA provides a service that is essential for life. We must all feel insulted and diminished by Kevin Acevedo’s comments, interventions, and misinformation.    

Author Francisco Rodríguez-Castro is president of Birling Capital.

In Puerto Rico, there is a specific representation of all the island’s problems, represented in two corporations, LUMA and PREPA.

The final word: Puerto Rico’s investment climate suffers
As we discussed above the most recent example of these failures is the situation of the poor stability of generation that is PREPA’s responsibility, and the combination of errors that LUMA made this past week. 

LUMA Energy, its beginning was rocky, it could not even establish a little credibility, moreover, its behavior has been impractical and arrogant.

As we continue this dialogue and with our reliance on fossil fuels, we should note that the world has been moving to modify its energy sources from fossil fuels to a better mix using wind, solar, hydro, and waste to energy.

In comparison the US by 2018, had reduced its reliance on oil to 36.4% and natural gas to 30.7%, PREPA uses mostly oil-fired power plants.

Puerto Rico, USA needs to establish a solid investment climate, and having a dependable infrastructure with an ample reliable supply of energy is an integral part of any government’s Investment climate.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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