Heinrich Questions Officials On Rebuilding Electric Grid In Puerto Rico

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) delivered opening remarks and questioned officials in a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing to examine the current status of Puerto Rico’s electric grid and proposals for the future operation of the grid.

VIDEO: U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich Delivers Opening Remarks On Rebuilding Electric Grid In Puerto Rico

“Congress would like to see federal aid go to help Puerto Rico incorporate microgrids, renewables, distributed generation, and increased resilience into the grid,” said Senator Heinrich. “I think we can also agree that a starting point is a robust, independent, and transparent regulatory structure, something that Puerto Rico has struggled with over the years. If we do not get this right, we’ll be in exactly the same place after the next hurricane.”

VIDEO: U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich Questions Officials On Rebuilding Electric Grid In Puerto Rico

During the hearing, Senator Heinrich said it is “reprehensible” and “unacceptable” for the Army Corps of Engineers to claim their mission accomplished in Puerto Rico, yet over 20,000 Puerto Rican American citizens still don’t have power. Senator Heinrich stated he could not imagine a scenario where the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA would leave 20,000 Texans or Floridians without power.

Senator Heinrich also highlighted the painfully high cost of retail electric rates for both citizens and manufacturers and the barriers high rates create as Puerto Rico rebuilds its electric grid. Senator Heinrich pressed the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) CEO Walter Higgins on the importance of allowing people to generate their own power. In response to Senator Heinrich’s questioning, Higgins stated that Puerto Rico needs to change the way the grid is powered and allow customers to self-generate and interconnect with them safely.

A list of witnesses and testimony, and the archived webcast of today's hearing will be available here

Senator Heinrich’s opening remarks as prepared for delivery during the hearing today are below:

Thank you, Madam Chairman, for scheduling this timely hearing to examine the current status of Puerto Rico’s grid restoration and proposals for the future operation of its grid. 

Senator Cantwell asked me to fill in for her at the start and she’ll be here later.

Before proceeding, I would first like to take a moment to recognize the service of nine Puerto Rico National Guardsmen. They were tragically killed last Wednesday when their C-130 crashed shortly after taking off in Georgia. 

Our thoughts and prayers are with their families.

Senator Cantwell asked that I acknowledge Senators Nelson and Rubio for leading a letter of a group of our colleagues requesting this hearing. Senator Nelson has been such a forceful advocate for Puerto Rico, and I understand he was on the island just last Friday.

I thank our distinguished witnesses for sharing their expertise and perspective with us today.

Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017 causing the largest power outage in our nation’s history. And the second largest outage the world has known. 

We are still not done with the restoration process over 7 months after the storm.

Today, 98 percent of power customers in Puerto Rico have power, but much more works remains. Tens of thousands of customers are still in the dark, and the threat to their health and well-being is real.  

As we approach hurricane season in the coming weeks, we need to ensure that we have learned the lessons of Maria so that we do not make the same mistakes. 

Congress would like to see federal aid go to help Puerto Rico incorporate microgrids, renewables, distributed generation, and increased resilience into the grid. I think we can also agree that a starting point is a robust, independent, and transparent regulatory structure, something that Puerto Rico has struggled with over the years.

If we do not get this right, we’ll be in exactly the same place after the next hurricane.

Madam Chairman, I understand Senator Cantwell will join us shortly.

Thank you for being here this morning for this important hearing, and we look forward to your testimony.