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Puerto Rico power company suspends $65M worth of maintenance projects, sparking outcry amid outages

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Puerto Rico power company suspends $65M worth of maintenance projects, sparking outcry amid outages
News

News

Puerto Rico power company suspends $65M worth of maintenance projects, sparking outcry amid outages

2024-06-25 07:23 Last Updated At:07:30

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The private operator of Puerto Rico’s power grid confirmed Monday the deferral of $65 million worth of maintenance and improvement projects in the U.S. territory, with some repairs postponed for at least a year because of budget constraints, putting at risk the already troubled grid — and sparking a widespread outcry.

Some of the deferred projects include maintenance of more than 100,000 light posts, fire mitigation and repairs on underground circuits, among other improvements.

Luma Energy’s head of regulatory affairs, Mario Hurtado, told The Associated Press on Monday that the suspended projects, which he aims to bring back next year, risk more outages across the island.

“The risk is always that there will be more failures in terms of public lighting,” Hurtado said.

At a budget hearing on Friday, Hurtado said Luma Energy prioritized other tasks based on “professional judgment,” which they consider calculated risks. The lack of fire mitigation puts the grid at risk as hotter temperatures seize Puerto Rico, increasing the chances of wildfires disrupting power lines.

“We make judgments based on what we have available and what our goals are,” Hurtado said Friday. “Although it entails a risk, it’s an acceptable risk.”

Luma’s budget, proposed to Puerto Rico’s Energy Bureau, includes $1.3 billion for the entire electrical sector, with 65% allocated to Luma, which is in charge of transmission and distribution, 32% to Genera PR, which operates and maintains the grid, and 3% to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.

The budget aims to inject funds into Luma’s customer service, personnel safety and renewable energy projects.

Luma's announcement to defer millions of dollars' worth of projects amid chronic power outages has angered many.

“It is unacceptable that Luma Energy can unilaterally decide to suspend crucial tasks,” Jesús Manuel Ortiz, a member of the House of Representatives who’s also running for governor, said in a statement Monday. “It is evident that Luma continues to fail in its responsibilities, and that no one in the Government of Puerto Rico is responsible.”

The company confirmed a delay in funds disbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday. Luma has submitted about 400 projects for approval to upgrade the energy grid, and about 100 have been approved, Hurtado said.

The budget hearing comes as the island of 3.2 million people contends with frequent power outages more than six years after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm. The combination of storms, earthquakes and underinvestment has hindered recovery efforts.

A massive blackout in mid-June left over 340,000 customers in the capital, San Juan, and nearby cities without power during a heat wave. Prior to the blackout, towns in central and southern Puerto Rico were left without power for about five days after a transformer collapsed early June. The company restored the service on June 9, with some residents still experiencing sporadic outages last week.

Over the weekend, Luma shipped a transformer via boat from San Juan to the southern coastal city of Ponce and then transported it to the nearby town of Santa Isabel.

Governor Pedro Pierluisi activated the National Guard to help with the energy crisis and ordered an investigation into the June 13 blackout. The Energy Bureau is also investigating and has directed Luma and Genera PR to submit a plan to stabilize the island’s electrical network.

Follow AP’s coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean at https://apnews.com/hub/latin-america

FILE - Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority workers repair distribution lines damaged by Hurricane Maria in the Cantera community of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Oct. 19, 2017. The private operator of Puerto Rico’s power grid confirmed Monday, June 24, 2024, the deferral of $65 million worth of maintenance and improvement projects in the U.S. territory, with some repairs postponed for at least a year because of budget constraints. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti, File)

FILE - Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority workers repair distribution lines damaged by Hurricane Maria in the Cantera community of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Oct. 19, 2017. The private operator of Puerto Rico’s power grid confirmed Monday, June 24, 2024, the deferral of $65 million worth of maintenance and improvement projects in the U.S. territory, with some repairs postponed for at least a year because of budget constraints. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti, File)

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio (AP) — Republican vice presidential nominee JD Vance will make his first solo appearances on the campaign trail Monday, a day after the 2024 presidential race was thrown into upheaval as President Joe Biden dropped out of the race, leaving the Democratic candidate an open question.

Vance, an Ohio senator, is scheduled to hold a rally in his hometown of Middletown, followed by an evening event in Radford, Virginia, fresh off his rally debut with Donald Trump over the weekend.

Vance had been expected to eventually face Vice President Kamala Harris in a debate. But with Biden dropping out and the Democratic ticket unsettled, the senator is following Trump’s lead and focusing on attacking Biden and Harris jointly.

“President Trump and I are ready to save America, whoever’s at the top of the Democrat ticket,” Vance said Sunday in a post on X. “Bring it on.”

Trump’s campaign plans to use Vance, who became the GOP vice presidential nominee last week, in Rust Belt states that are seen as pivotal for Democrats’ path to the White House, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and places where the senator’s blue collar roots and populist views are expected to resonate.

Middletown, between Cincinnati and Dayton, is considered to be part of the Rust Belt. Using it as the location for his first solo event as the vice presidential nominee not only allows Vance to lean into his biography, which he laid out in his bestselling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” but it gives the campaign a chance to establish a fresh groundswell in a former swing state that has been trending Republican.

While Republicans promoted a unifying message last week and decried inflammatory language in the wake of the assassination attempt against Trump, one of the first speakers to introduce Vance at the rally suggested the country may need to come to civil war if Trump loses in November.

“I believe wholeheartedly, Donald Trump and Butler County’s JD Vance are the last chance to save our country,” said George Lang, a Republican state senator. “Politically, I’m afraid if we lose this one, it’s going to take a civil war to save the country and it will be saved. It’s the greatest experiment in the history of mankind."

Vendors outside the event removed merchandise referencing Biden and added coffee mugs, T-shirts and other items that featured Vance.

Vance’s second stop is in a part of western Virginia that is considered a part of the Appalachia region. The campaign's decision to send Vance there also signals their confidence in their chances. Virginia is a state that had been a swing state but has gone for Democrats in every presidential election since 2008.

In his speech at the Republican National Convention last week introducing himself to America, Vance spoke about “forgotten communities” where “jobs were sent overseas and children were sent to war.”

The 39-year-old Republican also leaned into his relative youth, contrasting Biden’s decades in government with the milestones in his own life. It’s not clear how Vance will shift his message toward Harris, whom many Democrats were lining up to support, or any other contender for the nomination.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who is seen as a potential Democratic vice presidential candidate, made a point of criticizing Vance for the way he has portrayed Kentucky and the region.

Vance was raised by his grandparents in Middletown, which is not in Appalachia, but spent a significant amount of time traveling to Kentucky with his grandparents to visit family. The senator has said he hopes to be buried in a small mountain cemetery there.

“He ain’t from here,” Beshear told The Associated Press.

The governor took issue with Vance's portrayals in his book of people in Kentucky and eastern Kentucky and suggestions that they were lazy or not motivated to work.

“You don’t get to just come in eastern Kentucky a couple of times in the summer and then maybe for weddings and a funeral and cast judgment on us. It’s offensive,” Beshear said.

Despite his presence on the primetime debate stage and his bestselling book, Vance is still working to introduce himself to voters.

A CNN poll conducted in late June found the majority of registered voters had never heard of Vance or had no opinion of him. Just 13% of registered voters said they had a favorable opinion of Vance and 20% had an unfavorable one, according to the poll.

After Vance was named as Trump’s running mate, a startling number of Republican delegates, who are typically party insiders and activists, said they didn’t know much about the senator.

In his hometown in Ohio, though, he was welcomed as a local star.

Zetta Davidson, 73, a longtime poll worker from Fairborn, Ohio, called it “a wonderful move” for Trump to pick Vance. “I think he’s honest, straightforward, and if it’s not right, he’ll rip it apart,” she said.

A 72-year-old retiree from Middletown, Randy Linville, called Vance an “excellent choice."

“No. 1, he’s young,” Linville said. "Mr. Trump is not that old, but he’s getting up there.”

Vance has served in the Senate for less than two years. He has morphed from being a harsh Trump critic, at one point likening him to Hitler, to becoming a staunch defender of the former president, hitting the campaign trail on his behalf and even joining him at his Manhattan criminal trial this summer.

Price reported from New York. Associated Press writer Bruce Schreiner in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.

Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2024 election at https://apnews.com/hub/election-2024

This story has been corrected to reflect that state Sen. George Lang said Butler County, not Booker County, when referring to JD Vance.

Attendees wait in line to attend a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Attendees wait in line to attend a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Police snipers stand atop Middletown High School before Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, speaks at a campaign rally, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Police snipers stand atop Middletown High School before Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, speaks at a campaign rally, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Supporters wait in line to attend a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Supporters wait in line to attend a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Members of the police department look on at a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Members of the police department look on at a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Police snipers stand atop Middletown High School as supporters arrive to attend a campaign rally with Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Police snipers stand atop Middletown High School as supporters arrive to attend a campaign rally with Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

A cardboard cutout of former first lady Melania Trump appears as supporters arrive at a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

A cardboard cutout of former first lady Melania Trump appears as supporters arrive at a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Supporters arrive at a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Supporters arrive at a campaign rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at Middletown High School, Monday, July 22, 2024, in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, arrives to speak at a campaign event with Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, Saturday, July 20, 2024, at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Republican vice presidential candidate Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, arrives to speak at a campaign event with Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, Saturday, July 20, 2024, at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

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