As a flash storm poured over San Juan on June 1, leaders and members of labor unions huddled under a yellow tent in front of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to denounce LUMA Energy, the new private operator of the island’s power grid.
“There won’t be peace, there won’t be peace, if LUMA doesn’t leave,” the crowd chanted under a golden awning stamped with UTIER, the acronym for the Electrical Industry and Irrigation Workers Union, which represents workers for the electric company.
On that same day, the power authority, PREPA, transferred the operation of its distribution and transmission lines to LUMA Energy, a San Juan-based consortium between North American companies Atco and Quanta Services. Under the new model, PREPA retains ownership of its assets and responsibility for electricity generation.
Awarded a 15-year contract, the private operator promises to modernize the power grid. On an island where residents struggle with routine blackouts and sky-high bills, LUMA is a welcome change for some Puerto Ricans.
But labor unions, officials, social organizations and environmental and energy experts are apprehensive. Some of them oppose LUMA Energy running the distribution and transmission lines of the island’s troubled utility altogether. Their concerns include the conditions surrounding LUMA’s costly contract, fears of privatization of government services, and whether the company has enough workers.
Frustrations have only continued to mount as Puerto Ricans experience blackouts across the island since LUMA’s official takeover —including one outage last week that left nearly 1 million customers without power.