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Puerto Rico is Experiencing an Island-Wide Blackout (engadget.com) 245

An anonymous reader shares a report: Seven months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, the power grid is still unstable. But progress was being made; according to CBS, less than 10 percent of the island was without power as of a month ago. But now, the Associated Press reports that the island is undergoing yet another full blackout. The power company is still investigating the cause and estimates it will take 24 to 36 hours for power to be restored. The saga of Puerto Rico's power grid has been an unhappy one. The US territory was already facing a financial crisis before the hurricane hit. The island only has one electric company, and prior to Maria, it was $9 billion in debt and utilizing outdated infrastructure and equipment.
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Puerto Rico is Experiencing an Island-Wide Blackout

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  • by Higaran ( 835598 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @12:30PM (#56458587)
    How can any company be so far in debt and still operating, in any shape or form. I would have figured they would have closed long ago and their assets sold to other companies.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      If it's so unprofitable to operate there, other companies won't want to buy in just to lose money?

      • PREPA is in the process of being sold off.

        The modern standard would be to setup an independent system operator (ISO), a transmission operations company, sell each of the generation units separately and dispatch via power bids into a pool.

        We'll see what the corrupt government of Puerto Rico does. I bet the whole thing ends up in the hands of contributors, particularly any profitable, low cost, generation stations.

        The key problem the power company has is not getting paid for the power they generate, wh

        • by dj245 ( 732906 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @01:48PM (#56459069) Homepage
          PREPA's has deferred maintenance on their power plants for so long that it would be very expensive to rehabilitate many of them into anything resembling a reliable condition. They have turbine rotors that have been sitting outside rusting for years. Even if they gave me a power plant for free, I wouldn't want to attempt to turn it into a profitable enterprise. Plus, since they have burned many power plant repair companies so badly, most will not work for PREPA until past bills are paid AND new work is paid in advance.

          Source- PREPA owes my company a large sum of money for power plant work done before the hurricanes.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          We'll see what the corrupt government of Puerto Rico does.

          Before you lay the entire blame on the Puerto Rican government I suggest you broaden your sources a bit. Quoting from Wikipedia

          The Government of Puerto Rico is a republican form of government with separation of powers, subject to the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the United States.

          (emphasis mine.)

          For more on that, please see https://congressionaldish.com/... [congressionaldish.com].

          I doubt that PR is entirely blameless for their present situation, but they've had a lot of help from our congress.

          • We'll see what the corrupt government of Puerto Rico does.

            Before you lay the entire blame on the Puerto Rican government I suggest you broaden your sources a bit. Quoting from Wikipedia

            The Government of Puerto Rico is a republican form of government with separation of powers, subject to the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the United States.

            And? So is Chicago.

            Both are leftist fiefdoms. They reap what they sow.

          • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

            Yet the bastards still won't leave and sell their property cheap, what do we have to start shooting them. Don't they know they are holding up billions in highly profitable developments done for maximum profit on cheap land provided by US legislative action and US government inaction. https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com] just so you don't think they are picking on you https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com] whoops wrong one, how about https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com] (get past the US tiny bit).

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Poor people assuming no one will ever try to reclaim their debts. Local Government has always assumed the US would bail them out, thus the corruption. What you're seeing now is quite calculated, PR to make the US Government look bad. Media will eat it up too.

        Never let a tragedy go to waste where profit an be exploited. It's unlikely _any_ of these fuckers will spend a day in jail let alone pay.

        Fun fact, it happens everywhere a service is deemed a necessity. Ontario for example is STILL paying off d

        • by Bryansix ( 761547 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @01:26PM (#56458923) Homepage
          Why is investing in Hydro bad? Its a very stable baseload generator for the power grid. The main problem is getting the power over the transmission lines to where it is needed. This was a problem with the 50-60 year old tech probably in place but it's not as much of an issue with current tech and equipment. This means the transmission and distribution circuits need to be upgraded and that costs money. They also have to upgrade the substation equipment to bring in redundancy, allow for better power protection, and better regulate the voltage coming from the substation as well as the voltages on the individual branch lines of each circuit. Spending on infrastructure upgrades is not only a good idea, its necessary.
        • With a population of 3.74 million people, it works out to $2406/person, 8.7%GDP. on a per capita income of ~$20k.
    • Government. It is both the cause, because it is seen as the only solution.

    • by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @12:42PM (#56458653)
      PREPA - Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority [aeepr.com] is a public corporation, not private. One of the benefits of socialized utilities is that they can spend other people's money forever.
      • Don't worry, I'm sure they will be the 51st state in short order. A great Puerto Rico purchase, all funded by the US tax payer. Why bring them to the states when they can buy votes where they live now?

      • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @05:08PM (#56460461) Homepage Journal

        PREPA - Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority [aeepr.com] is a public corporation, not private. One of the benefits of socialized utilities is that they can spend other people's money forever.

        Socialized utilities work pretty well in other parts of the United States (e.g. TVA). So what's different about Puerto Rico? Oh, yeah. That's right. It's dirt poor in large part because of bad U.S. trade policies that actual states don't have to deal with (the Jones Act in particular). They wouldn't be in this mess if the Puerto Rico statehood referendum had passed back in 1998. This has jack to do with socialized utilities and everything to do with Congress treating Puerto Rico like America's bastard child.

    • The government must keep it running regardless of its financial woes. It's not Sears losing to Walmart.

  • by Seven Spirals ( 4924941 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @12:42PM (#56458649)
    Stiff the power company's creditors. Allow them to declare bankruptcy. Then re-capitalize the whole thing without debt and move on with what you can actually pay for. If that's impossible or they are too corrupt/incompetent to get that done, then as an individual you should factor in whole-house power generation before getting a house or moving to PR. I'm not saying this with a shaking finger or judgment, I'm just saying it seems like common sense, now.
    • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

      The power company is owned by the government. While governments can declare bankruptcy it is not really a good idea if you are going to expect credit in the future.

    • The whole notion that you can just upgrade the infrastructure you can afford is what got them into this mess. The core issue here is the rate they charge for the power doesn't cover the cost of generating and distributing the power.
    • when you're dirt poor in PR. We've been dumping on PR for ages because they lean left.
    • Then re-capitalize the whole thing without debt and move on with what you can actually pay for. If that's impossible or they are too corrupt/incompetent to get that done

      You idea works well in practice for a company with working valuable assets. That's not the case here. You can't stiff all your creditors, declare bankruptcy, recapitalize, and then expect any 3rd party to work with you when it comes to repairing your broken crap. Not after you just failed to pay the previous people you owned money to.

      It's good old anti-mates-rates. Normally I charge $1000 for this work, but hey, because it's you .... I'm gonna need it up front.

  • by FeelGood314 ( 2516288 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @12:46PM (#56458681)
    Democracy is the best way for people to remove a government peacefully. I do realize that in the USA that's generally not possible, American's can only vote for "the other lizard", you can't actually remove both. However, in almost every other place in the world such gross mismanagement of the economy would lead to at least a viable opposition being created. What is so special about the USA when their government (i.e. congress) regularly has support in the low teens. The government of Syria has more support and they have to use violent suppression to stay in power.

    I've lived in the USA both in the Bay area and in a wealthy part of black Decatur Georgia. I like Americans. I really don't understand their support for their government.
    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @01:17PM (#56458863)
      "The government" is the one responsible for the horrid state of the power grid in Puerto Rico, both structurally and financially. The power company is publicly owned (i.e. government controlled) and they prohibit anyone else from selling power.

      Any time you create a situation like that, there's a risk the people managing the utility will become complacent about doing their jobs or in some cases simply not doing their jobs, because there's no way for them to lose their jobs. There's nothing wrong with government-owned utilities and programs so long as you're careful to monitor for and stomp out such complacency. But if you fail to do so, you wind up with a sub-par infrastructure which costs far more to operate than it should.

      That's the thing most people don't seem to get about the public/private debate. It isn't that public ownership is always better than private ownership, or private is always better than public. It's that sometimes public is better than private, and sometimes private is better than public. Depending on the problems you're experiencing, it can be beneficial to make a publicly-owned company private. Or make a privately-owned company public. The key is to take the right action depending on the exact circumstances which are causing problems. Both have their advantages, and both have their failure modes.

      Unfortunately, we've developed philosophies where people think public ownership is always superior, or private is always superior. Meaning the people will keep voting for the very people who caused the situation they're suffering with, and the problem never gets fixed. That's the Achilles heel of democracy - it relies on the public being informed to function properly. A deceived public can steer a democracy straight into the ground (or in this case, into bankruptcy).
    • The part of Syria that the government has to suppress wants to get rid of the government, install a theocracy, and run Syria like Iran 2.0 so it's not really compatible with reality.
    • They didn't (Score:2, Informative)

      by rsilvergun ( 571051 )
      like most poor States they don't have the resources to build a power grid without help. The same is true for KY, AL, SC and just about the entire South. That's one of the reasons they're a net importer of Federal dollars.

      PR's problem is that they're like a state but they're not. They have the disadvantages (paying taxes, military service requirements, etc) but none of the benefits. They've been trying to become a full state for ages but they lean Democrat and the Republicans have been in charge since Re
      • like most poor States they don't have the resources to build a power grid without help. The same is true for KY, AL, SC and just about the entire South. That's one of the reasons they're a net importer of Federal dollars.

        PR's problem is that they're like a state but they're not. They have the disadvantages (paying taxes, military service requirements, etc) but none of the benefits. They've been trying to become a full state for ages but they lean Democrat and the Republicans have been in charge since Reagan (I'm not counting Clinton, he was so right wing he might as well have been a Republican).

        Every few years they vote on a non-binding resolution to determine their political status [wikipedia.org]. Options are status quo (territory), independence, or statehood. In June 2017, 23% of those eligible voted due to a boycott by the PPD party, but 97% of those who voted indicated a desire for statehood. In the previous referendum (2012), 46% indicated they wanted to keep the status quo; if that wasn't an option 61% favored statehood.

    • What is so special about the USA when their government (i.e. congress) regularly has support in the low teens

      While Congress as a whole has support in the low teens, the support that each congressperson has from their constituentsis actually quite high. How much of that is because of delusion is a valid question, but there's no consent each individual congressperson has the consent of the governed.

      • Ah, thank you. That does make sense. That would also explain what other wise would be really bizarre budget spending requirements. If most Americans approve of that arrangement then I'm not going to criticize.
        • Again, it's not the most Americans approve of the arrangement or the system. It's just most Americans approve of the part that they consider within their control*, and don't see a way of changing it. I'm not sure if there is a way to change it that won't result in a shooting war.

          (*Not including presidential results, where at least half the country is constantly pissed. More than that now.)

  • and there are political reasons for both of those things.
    • by tomhath ( 637240 )

      political reasons for both

      More financial than political. In both cases the utility is short of money because they must provide service even if the customer doesn't pay the bill.

  • Well,

    instead of answering to the dumb posts I just make a new post, so you can flame me :D

    9 billion debts are not peanuts, but for a power company that is nothing!

    Puerto Rico has a power production capacity of about 5GW: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    Building a new power plant costs between 1billion and 2billioin per GW, depending on technology used and other construction hassles: https://www.eia.gov/todayinene... [eia.gov]

    So much to: "corruption", "sozialism", "state owned", "burning tax money" ...

    The numbers abo

    • 9 billion in general company bonds. I guarantee you they also have debts secured by 110% of their system's current value, which could be much lower than the replacement cost, being based on projected future revenue.

      Why would they have paid an unsecured interest rate if they still had equity? That would make no sense.

      • I don't know what kind of debts they have.
        I only see the $9B and the outrage ...

        As they are government owned or more precisely "state owned" their debts are completely irrelevant.

        • Do you know of any company, private of public, that sells unsecured bonds before secured ones?

          They don't own a money printing press, their debts are absolutely relevant. Especially as they are currently in the process of being sold to the private market. You can bet they would be worth much more without the debt.

  • by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Wednesday April 18, 2018 @01:49PM (#56459075)

    I'm wondering if Puerto Rico might be a good place for some companies to test and showcase new power technologies. If the country's electrical grid is utter crap, then perhaps the fastest way out of the hole is to abandon large parts of it in favour of localized wind and solar capacity, with battery storage and some fossil-fuel generation capability as backup. Maybe even a couple of those dumpster-sized nuclear generators, if they're buried deep enough...

    Yes, it will cost money. That could be partially offset by the good publicity and the possible tax write-offs. It's also an opportunity to try out experimental ideas and processes in a place where the people will be a lot more accepting of failures and interruptions, because right now they have nothing to lose. That's worth money in its own right. And much of the work could be done with cheap local labour. The Puerto Rican economy could benefit in three ways - reliable power, local jobs, and technical training that would raise the level of local expertise. I could see Elon Musk taking the lead on this, and perhaps other companies would jump on board as well.

    Depending on the electrical grid to power households and small businesses is kind of quaint anyway. Local power generation provides redundancy, avoids single points of failure, reduces transmission losses, and is friendlier to renewable energy. The Grid should power industry, and serve only as a backup for less power-intensive users. Puerto Rico might be a good place to start moving in that direction.

    • Yes, it will cost money. That could be partially offset by the good publicity and the possible tax write-offs.

      The good old "paid for by hopes and dreams approach" I do recall Elon Musk providing solar and battery storage only to get grilled in this very forum for doing so. You're better off trying to crowdfund it all.

      • by haruchai ( 17472 )

        Yes, it will cost money. That could be partially offset by the good publicity and the possible tax write-offs.

        The good old "paid for by hopes and dreams approach" I do recall Elon Musk providing solar and battery storage only to get grilled in this very forum for doing so. You're better off trying to crowdfund it all.

        He tweeted a few hours ago that there are over 600 locations in Puerto Rico being powered by Tesla battery packs and hopes to have several hundred more online as soon as possible
        https://twitter.com/elonmusk/s... [twitter.com]

        • Cool bananas. One company well known for marketing blitzes like this is on board. But unless you can find more companies like Tesla this isn't going to solve the problem.

          We're no longer talking about storm damage mitigation, we're talking about complete overhaul of infrastructure. And I do seem to recall that Tesla originally saw these as temporary loans, especially considering that they were setup in all sorts of inconvenient places like car parks, football fields, etc.

  • The people of Puerto Rico have been led by corrupt and useless leaders.
    http://politicalvanguard.com/i... [politicalvanguard.com]

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