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November 25, 2019

Puerto Rico electricity generation returned to pre-2017 hurricane levels one year later

monthly Puerto Rico net generation by fuel type
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Form EIA-923, Power Plant Operations Report

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) latest annual Power Plant Operations Report, nearly a year had passed before net electricity generation in Puerto Rico approached levels similar to those in the months before Hurricanes Irma and Maria damaged the territory’s electricity grid in September 2017. Recovery efforts to repair damage to Puerto Rico’s power plants and the electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure permitted generation to return to pre-hurricane levels.

Puerto Rico's electricity is supplied by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), a government agency that owns and operates the electricity transmission and distribution systems, as well as 77% of the electric power generating capacity, according to EIA’s preliminary monthly inventory of electricity generators.

When Hurricane Irma passed near Puerto Rico in early September 2017, about two-thirds of the island’s 1.5 million electric utility customers lost power. Later that same month, on September 20, Hurricane Maria struck. Damage from Hurricane Maria rendered 80% of PREPA’s transmission and distribution network inoperable, causing nearly all electric utility customers to lose power.

Puerto Rico’s net generation dropped from 1.57 million megawatthours (MWh) in August 2017 to 0.27 million MWh in October 2017. From November 2017 through August 2018, Puerto Rico’s net electricity generation remained lower than the previous year's levels. According to U.S. Department of Energy situation reports, about 96% of customers had their power restored as of April 2018, but net electricity generation remained relatively low for several more months.

In the four months immediately following the hurricanes (October 2017 through January 2018), petroleum- and natural gas-fired generation continued at lower than pre-hurricane levels, and generation from coal and renewables was entirely offline. In each of those four months, petroleum was the most prevalent fuel used for electricity generation, ranging from 55% to 78% of the total, and natural gas powered the remaining electricity generation. Generation from coal and renewables both began to supply electricity to the grid in February 2018, but both remained slightly lower than their pre-hurricane levels for the rest of 2018.

Natural gas was the most prevalent electricity generation source in 8 of those 11 months (February–December 2018). All of Puerto Rico’s natural gas is imported as liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Trinidad. An LNG capacity expansion that was planned before the hurricane ultimately entered service in May 2018, allowing the island to import 50% more natural gas than it could in 2017.

annual net electricity generation from selected plants in Puerto Rico
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Form EIA-923, Power Plant Operations Report

In both 2017 and 2018, five large plants (Costa Sur, EcoElectrica, Central San Juan, AES Puerto Rico, and Aguirre) collectively supplied 90% of Puerto Rico’s net electricity generation. Four of those five plants produced more electricity in 2018 than in 2017; Aguirre, on Puerto Rico’s southern coast, was the exception. Increases in electricity generation from the top four plants displaced some net generation from the Aguirre plant, which is only fueled by petroleum.

Principal contributor: Paul McArdle