A day after an island-wide blackout hit Puerto Rico, the latest blackout in an ever-troubled power grid, nearly half a million customers remained in the darkness Thursday evening.
Power was slowly being restored, but more than 470,000 customers continued to lack power, out of a total of more than 1.4 million customers, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks power outages.
For Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million people, the island-wide loss of electricity was a frustrating continuation of the hardships caused by an unreliable power grid. The problems persisted even after a private Canadian-U.S. consortium, Luma, took over power transmission and distribution from the Puerto Rico utility last June with a commitment to reduce the frequency of outages.
Luma said in an announcement on Thursday that “the power grid suffered a massive island-wide outage, potentially caused by a faulty circuit breaker at the Costa Sur power station.” The facility produces the most electricity on the island.
Video footage Circulating on social media showed a fire burning at one of the electrical substations in Costa Sur, on the southeast coast of the island. The exact cause of the power outage, which occurred after 8 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, is still under investigation, Luma said in a statement Thursday. The company said the facility suffered “significant damage”.
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, known as PREPA, tweeted an image of the charred substation on Thursday, showing some of its components completely blacked out.
Luma is “unable to provide a full restoration estimate at this time,” the company said in a statement Thursday afternoon. Efforts to restore power would continue until Friday, he added.
The public school was canceled Thursday, and some government agencies halted their usual operations. An estimated 182,000 water and sewer customers – around 10% – were also without water on Thursday as a result of the blackout.
Governor Pedro R. Pierluisi posted a series of updates on social media, urge people to “stay calm” and await official updates from government agencies and Luma.
In 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, knocking out electricity across the island and further exposing the vulnerability of the already fragile power grid. Some residents found themselves without electricity for more than a year.
Officials have attributed past power outages to animals — once a cat and in another case an iguana, according to The Associated Press.
Puerto Rico privatized its power grid last year and awarded Luma a 15-year contract with an annual fee of $115 million to take over transmission and distribution operations from the beleaguered and bankrupt PREPA. The utility is still involved in power generation.
When Luma took over, company officials said they were prepared for emergencies and hurricanes. However, widespread blackouts continued and lasted longer than under PREPA.
Rafael Hernandez, Speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, said in a tweet that a public company run by Puerto Rican suppliers, such as PREPA, could “operate more efficiently than the current energy system”. He call for Ousting Luma, claiming there were “thousands of families suffering” from the outage.
Patricia Mazzei contributed report.