Puerto Rico isn’t ready for hurricane season

Puerto Rico isn’t ready for hurricane season

With help from Brakkton Booker, Ella Creamer, Rishika Dugyala, Jesse Naranjo and Teresa Wiltz

A photo illustration shows a torn paper edge on a photo of a utility pole with loose cables.

A utility pole with loose cables towers over a home in Loiza, Puerto Rico, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022. | POLITICO illustration/Photo by AP

What up, Recast family! This week is Power List week. On Friday, we’re publishing a project naming 40 players we think influenced policy, culture and identity politics in 2022. And we’re giving y’all a preview of who we picked every day this week, starting today. Let’s get into some news first — but don’t forget to scroll down further for the first reveal.

Hey, fellow baseball lovers,

I couldn’t be more excited for the Thursday start of the 2023 season (and for the chance to look away from the debacle that is my brackets for the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments. Spoiler alert: I will not be winning the POLITICO pools).

But those of us who love baseball also got to enjoy a thrilling World Baseball Classic. And although Puerto Rico fell short of the title, the team’s run to the quarterfinals was a source of immense pride — and a temporary distraction from very real challenges on the territory, including the fragility of the power grid.

The grid survived the winter months with no major disruptions after Hurricane Fiona knocked out electricity across Puerto Rico last year. In the six months since Fiona hit, an intense effort has been underway to shore up the power grid against outages and accelerate the territory’s transition to renewable energy.

But fears persist that Puerto Rico’s power system will not be ready for the coming hurricane season and that its 3.3 million inhabitants will once again face life-or-death situations from devastating blackouts.

A utility worker works to repair a power line.

Members of a brigade of the company LUMA work restoring energy in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona on Sept. 20, 2022, in San Juan. | Jose Jimenez/Getty Images

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, whom President Joe Biden tapped last year to lead the federal government’s efforts to modernize the grid, knows this is a very real risk.

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“Will the grid be totally ready for the next hurricane season? In all candor, it will not,” Granholm told POLITICO.

“But, will it be better than it was last time? Will there be a quicker response than there was last time? That’s exactly what we are all striving for, that people will not be without power for months.”

Years of underinvestment and poor maintenance have left the grid vulnerable to weather disasters, which frequently cause blackouts. But in 2017, Hurricane Maria caused unprecedented destruction when it roared ashore, killing almost 3,000 people and plunging parts of the territory into blackouts that lasted nearly a year.

And last September, Fiona left thousands of residents in the southern and southwestern areas without power for 12 days while other parts of the territory experienced intermittent outages.

A downed electricity pole sticks out of a road.

An electricity pole is downed Sept. 20, 2022, in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. | Jose Jimenez/Getty Images

But even if the power grid remains intact, Puerto Ricans living on the island will likely face another problem: rising electricity bills. That’s because a federal judge is weighing a proposed plan to end the government-owned utility’s bankruptcy — even though they already pay more on average for electricity than any U.S. state except for Hawaii.

Ruth Santiago, an environmental attorney in Puerto Rico and a member of a coalition named Queremos Sol — We Want Solar — fears that the expected price hikes for unreliable electricity in Puerto Rico will continue to propel Puerto Ricans out of the territory.

In 2018, the year after Maria, the number of residents moving to the mainland United States rose by 37 percent from the prior year.

“It’s going to keep pushing people out of Puerto Rico,” Santiago said.

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Robert Mujica, executive director of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico — the federal entity overseeing the territory’s finances, commonly known as La Junta — said the frustration Puerto Ricans have over rising power bills is understandable.

But Mujica, who was previously the longtime budget director for former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said affordability was a “critically important” factor in the board’s plan. It would dramatically cut costs by reducing the utility’s debt, he said, and end the bankruptcy while protecting the lowest-income people from escalating power bills.

A man walks on a flooded road in the rain.

A man walks on a road flooded by Hurricane Fiona in Cayey, Puerto Rico, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022. | Stephanie Rojas/AP Photo

Mujica has close ties to the territory — his parents were born in Puerto Rico and he spent summers in Arecibo — so shoring up the energy sector is not just a professional priority, but a personal one. After Maria hit, he did not know if his grandparents were safe until days after the storm. His grandmother has yet to return to the territory, he said, “because you can’t be 90 years old and you don’t have reliable power.”

Reliable and affordable power are critical elements to economic growth. That’s something “you take for granted in the States,” Mujica said, noting people are also leaving Puerto Rico because of a lack of jobs and educational opportunities.

“You still have families leaving the island because they don’t see opportunity for their children on the island,” he said. “That migration issue is real.”

As always, we’ll be watching to see how this all plays out.

All the best,
The Recast Team


Bennie Thompson

Rep. Bennie Thompson is one of 40 influential players of 2022 selected for The Recast Power List, publishing Friday. | Robyn Twomey for POLITICO

We’re launching our second annual Power List on Friday to highlight the folks who had extraordinary impact on politics, culture and identity over 2022. (You can see last year’s list here.)

We’d be remiss not to include Rep. Bennie Thompson, a son of the segregated south who helmed one of the most influential congressional investigations in history.

During his opening remarks for the Jan. 6 hearings, he drew a parallel that carried enormous weight:

“I am from a part of the country where people justified the actions of slavery, the Ku Klux Klan and lynching. I’m reminded of that dark history as I hear voices today try and justify the actions of the insurrectionists on Jan. 6, 2021.”

Thompson sat down with us at our POLITICO headquarters in February. Here’s a snippet of our conversation, edited for clarity and length.

THE RECAST: What was your first job?

THOMPSON: I hauled hay, h-a-y, for a farmer in my community. And that’s what you do when you’re small and living in rural America. You work on the farm.

THE RECAST: How old were you?

THOMPSON: 12. We didn’t have child labor laws back then.

THE RECAST: What life lesson did you take from it?

THOMPSON: I needed to do something better if I wanted to not haul hay for the rest of my life. So I decided to make sure I kept in school — and I would like to think it worked.

THE RECAST: Well, you had a big impact on 2022, through 2023. Were you surprised by the numbers the Jan. 6 committee hearings did, especially on prime time?

THOMPSON: We were astounded that the public had such an interest in the hearings. And, you know, when I would travel, you would see people take a double look at you as if, “Is that who I think it is?” I have traveled back and forth to Washington for almost 30 years.

I think early on, we set a tone where people said, “You know, they take the charge of being on this committee seriously.” We were tasked with the responsibility of looking at the facts and circumstances.

Bennie Thompson poses for a photo at POLITICO

Rep. Bennie Thompson poses for his portrait at POLITICO’s Rosslyn headquarters in February. | Rishika Dugyala/POLITICO

THE RECAST: Do you think that’s going to have any impact on the election of 2024?

THOMPSON: Well, yes, and I think it had an impact on elections of 2022. The red wave that everybody had predicted didn’t occur. And I think it’s because people looked at our hearings.

THE RECAST: As we’re thinking about policies that are being discussed in this current makeup of Congress, what role do you think race plays?

THOMPSON: Well, I think we will have a tough time on the Republican side in the House. Race is one of the most difficult issues to discuss. Some people think everything is fine.

THE RECAST: Look, Republicans have higher numbers of people of color within their caucus now. Do you think those discussions are going to be easier to have?

THOMPSON: They should be. But since none of those individuals in that other caucus chose to join the Congressional Black Caucus, it still means that we have some work to do.


JUST A FEW DAYS LEFT before the next installment of The Recast Power List is unveiled! Here’s our sizzle reel to get your appetites whetted!

Biden’s Nominees Hit Senate Skids — It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. Despite Democrats’ 51-seat majority, a slew of the president’s picks are facing tough prospects of getting confirmed or have withdrawn their nominations outright. POLITICO’s Burgess Everett, Daniella Diaz and Daniel Lippman explain why.

POTUS Pushes for Assault Weapons Ban — In the wake of Monday’s mass shooting at a Nashville Christian School, POLITICO’s Kierra Frazier reports, Biden again urges Congress to ban military-style weapons.

Khanna OUT — Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) made clear he wants no part of the open California Senate race — at least as a candidate. Over the weekend he threw his support behind fellow progressive Rep. Barbara Lee in the contested Democratic primary, reports POLITICO’s Jeremy B. White.

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Courtesy of POLITICO's Eugene Daniels

Some Folks Have All the Luck: Our very own Eugene Daniels interviewed Idris Elba, who was in Ghana at Vice President Kamala Harris’s invitiation, as part of her seven-day diplomatic mission in the West African nation.


“Tori and Lokita,” in theaters now, tenderly portrays the struggles and unfailing friendship of two young migrants in Belgium.

Go behind the scenes of “The Yanomami Struggle” exhibit, showcasing Claudia Andujar’s ethereal images alongside the works of Yanomami artists, representing one of the largest Indigenous groups in Amazonia.

In “Sea Change,” a new novel by Gina Chung, protagonist Ro is left with a giant Pacific octopus, Dolores, as her only companion after her boyfriend abandons her to join a Mars mission.

Melanie Martinez transforms into a mermaid/fairy/cat for her new music video, set in a mythical underworld. (It’s as weird and wonderful as it sounds.)

In “Unseen,” a new Netflix thriller set in South Africa, a seemingly innocuous cleaner becomes embroiled in a crime syndicate while searching for her husband, who goes missing after his release from prison.

BTS’ Jimin goes to the club in a dreamy visual for “Like Crazy.”

TikTok of the Day: Confidante

@naturallymelonie be having the best advice too 😭 @ichvse ♬ original sound – Naturally Melonie

JOIN POLITICO ON 4/5 FOR THE 2023 RECAST POWER LIST: America’s demographics and power dynamics are changing — and POLITICO is recasting how it covers the intersection of race, identity, politics and policy. Join us for a conversation on the themes of the 2023 Recast Power List that will examine America’s decision-making tables, who gets to sit at them, and the challenges that still need to be addressed. REGISTER HERE.

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