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Pictured: New York Attorney General Letitia James Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
New York's top lawyer urges FEMA to assess LUMA's progress over inconsistent and often unreliable service in Puerto Rico. Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

New York Attorney General calls for probe into LUMA operations in Puerto Rico

Letitia James expressed serious concerns over LUMA’s ongoing issues on the island in a letter addressed to the federal government.

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LUMA, Puerto Rico’s private power utility, could face further legal wrangling as New York Attorney General Letitia James urged federal government officials to investigate their Puerto Rico operations, following almost two years of unreliable, haphazard service, often leaving residents without power for hours, sometimes days on end. 

James, who is well known in the political sphere for her pursuit of former President Donald Trump’s financing across his organizations, now also sets her sights on Puerto Rico’s affairs in light of the blight left by Hurricane Fiona, and in particular, its electric grid. 

“Not only is the frequency of outages problematic, but the duration is also a growing concerns,” said James in a letter addressed to U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell, and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Richard Glick.

“According to Puerto Rico’s Energy Bureau, since January there has been an increase in overall outage duration per customer every month, with outages lasting more than 21 hours at every instance,” she wrote. 

Upon their installment in 2021, LUMA took over a waning grid from the government in the hopes it could restore its operations. After Maria, an already deteriorating grid was totaled by the hurricane’s devastating effects, rendering millions of Puerto Ricans without electricity for months on end. 

After contentious negotiating with government officials who were vocally opposed to LUMA’s takeover, a preliminary period of 15 months was established by local government prior to executing their contract in October of 2022. 

But the results have been lackluster. LUMA’s tenure in Puerto Rico is plagued with an onslaught of unexpected blackouts and island-wide power outages. Many customers experienced damaged appliances as a result, including the loss of a generator in the island’s largest hospital in San Juan. 

“LUMA’s Monacillo substation resulted in a loss of service to 900,000 customers. This past April, there was an island wide (sic.) outage impacting 1.5 million people after a fire at one of LUMA’s largest power plants, the Costa Sur power plant,” the letter continued. 

And Puerto Ricans ultimately pay a very high price. In 2022, LUMA increased tariffs three times, now at 34 cents per kilowatt, comparable to the state of Hawaii, one of the most expensive electricity tariffs in the region. 

The electric authority has dispensed all criticism directed at it since taking control. 

“Since LUMA assumed responsibility for the electric grid, we’ve focused on replacing, not just repairing, the deteriorated components in the system. This approach in managing these issues exhaustively has provoked longer durations of service interruptions but will result in a more reliable and resilient service,” LUMA told El Nuevo Día. 

Puerto Ricans themselves have continuously expressed their dissatisfaction with the hopes the government would reevaluate the impending contract. But it remains largely unclear whether the government will reconsider its position. 

Most recently, Governor Pedro Pierluisi called for a probe to look into operations. LUMA responded with IRRI, an obscure initiative that would investigate matters surrounding management, though no further details were released. 

LUMA execs were not present during the press conference for IRRI. 

“As Puerto Rico begins to recover from Hurricane Fiona, LUMA must be held accountable for providing the safe, reliable, and affordable electric service to the people of Puerto Rico,” the letter concludes. 

Neither LUMA nor FEMA has responded to the Attorney General’s request. 

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