The power's out in Puerto Rico

21 Sept 2017

Puerto Rice Storm

The island of Puerto Rico went dark today, as Hurricane Maria made a direct hit on the US territory as a Category 4 storm. Maria is the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico in about eight decades.

The storm brought 140 mph winds with it — which prompted an island-wide power outage as Puerto Rico’s only utility, PREPA, was damaged. By noon today, all 1.5 million PREPA customers were without power.

Even more concerning is the fact that those people could be out of power for months because the island's only power utility company is hugely in debt, just like the rest of Puerto Rico.

It’s hard to overstate how devastating Maria and other hurricanes have been to the islands and states they’ve hit over the past few weeks. But Puerto Rico stands out as particularly ill-equipped to deal with a severe storm, because the island is seriously broke, and has been for some time.

PREPA was already $9 billion in debt before Maria hit, with old facilities that needed serious repairs. The storm took down a lot of power lines, but it’s still too early to tell if it damaged the power plants themselves.

It also doesn’t have the workforce it needs for all these repairs; Puerto Rico is an aging island, with a lot of its young people moving to the mainland US where they can make more money, and many electrical workers are already retired.

Puerto Rico filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, in an effort to expunge some of the $123 billion it owes to its pensioners and bondholders. A long recovery and rebuild from the storm could severely complicate its plans to get back to financial solvency.