Sparta Report

Huge Explosion at Puerto Rico Power Plant a Setback for Recovery Efforts

Puerto Rico recently announced that 75% of the electricity on the island had been restored. Unfortunately, there seems to have been a major new setback late Sunday night as an explosion knocked a major power plant offline:

An explosion and fire at an electric substation threw much of northern Puerto Rico into darkness late Sunday in a setback for the U.S. territory’s efforts to fully restore power more than five months after Hurricane Maria started the longest blackout in U.S. history.

The island’s Electric Power Authority said several municipalities were without power, including parts of the capital, San Juan, but they were optimistic it could be restored within a day as they worked to repair a substation that controls voltage.

The blast illustrated the challenges of restoring a power grid that was already crumbling before it was devastated by the Category 4 hurricane.

In many cases, power workers are repairing equipment that should have long been replaced but remained online due to the power authority’s yearslong financial crisis. PREPA is worth roughly $4 billion, carries $9 billion in debt and has long been criticized for political patronage and inefficiency. It also struggled with frequent blackouts, including an island-wide outage in September 2016.

It was not immediately known what caused Sunday’s fire, which was quickly extinguished. Officials said the explosion knocked two other substations offline and caused a total loss of 400 megawatts worth of generation.