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Puerto Rico

Clean Power to the People

By Al Weinrub - Organizing Upgrade, October 27, 2021

As predicted, the climate has been screaming out with intensified ferocity at the assault on the earth by the global fossil fuel economy. Extreme weather conditions are wreaking havoc on communities across the world, leading many climate activists in the U.S. and elsewhere to declare a climate emergency, requiring an urgent, intensified transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

But thinking of this transition as mainly a shift in energy technology, as de-carbonizing the economy, is to misunderstand the deep roots of the climate crisis in an extractive economic system based on racialized social and economic inequality.

Emphasizing de-carbonization of energy without broad institutional transformation—an approach called carbon fundamentalism—leaves us still at the mercy of the corporate energy establishment. That approach, as we shall see, is actually amplifying the already devastating impacts of the climate crisis. “It ignores the specific needs of people of color, it promotes programs that force low-income people to pay unfairly for carbon reduction, it exposes our communities to increased risks, and it sacrifices justice in the urgent rush to reduce carbon,” says Jessica Tovar of the Local Clean Energy Alliance. “Time and again, it ends up throwing people of color under the bus.”

We need more than clean energy to address the climate crisis. We need to move from a large, centralized private utility model to a locally based, decentralized energy model. We need an energy system centered on democracy and justice.

Puerto Rican Electrical Workers Union Fights Privatization of Island’s Grid

By Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo - Labor Notes, October 26, 2021

The people and workers of Puerto Rico are suffering the consequences of the privatization of our electricity system, which has been handed over to a new company, LUMA Energy, a subsidiary of Houston-based Quanta Services and Canadian firm ATCO.

Our union, UTIER—the Puerto Rico Electric and Irrigation Industry Workers Union—has been fighting for months against the disastrous contract that the Puerto Rican government signed with LUMA to operate our electricity grid for the next 15 years.

Privatization has dismembered the electrical system’s workforce in a transparent attempt to break up our union. LUMA was not required to hire employees of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA)—the public company whose assets were privatized. Nor did LUMA comply with the existing collective agreements between PREPA and its unions. Instead, LUMA offered reduced benefits and job protections.

LUMA began its contract on June 1 with only half the number of employees PREPA previously had, many of them are untrained and unfamiliar with our electrical system. The result has been ongoing outages and customer service debacles. If a major hurricane had hit Puerto Rico this summer, the outcome would have been much worse.

Plagued by Daily Blackouts, Puerto Ricans Are Calling for an Energy Revolution. Will the Biden Administration Listen?

By Kristoffer Tigue - Inside Climate Newses, October 25, 2021

Many residents say a record amount of incoming federal aid provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transition the island to clean energy. So far, the funds are mostly going to natural gas.

Eddie Ramirez has never understood why his government doesn’t more aggressively pursue renewable energy.

When Hurricane Maria swept across Puerto Rico in September 2017, shredding the energy grid and knocking out power for nearly all the island’s 3.4 million residents for months on end, Casa Sol—Ramirez’s five-bedroom bed and breakfast—was one of the only buildings in San Juan with working electricity, with 30 solar panels bolted to its roof.

When a large fire this June at an electrical substation in San Juan plunged more than 800,000 Puerto Rican homes into darkness and knocked out power to another 330,000 the following week, Casa Sol’s lights stayed on, even as its neighbors lost power.

And when a series of equipment failures and poor maintenance led to cascading power outages across the island in August, September and October, leaving hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans without electricity for days at a time and prompting calls for Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi to resign, Ramirez and his solar-powered hotel carried on, business as usual.

“We don’t even know when it happens,” Ramirez said of the blackouts, which have become a daily part of life for many Puerto Ricans since June, when the private company LUMA Energy took over the island’s electricity transmission system.

With Puerto Rico’s grid still in shambles four years after Maria’s landfall, and $12.4 billion in federal aid earmarked to help repair the territory’s electrical systems and jumpstart its economy, many Puerto Ricans, like Ramirez, see a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine the island’s tattered power system as a modern grid powered by clean energy and far better at withstanding the worsening threats of the climate crisis.

But many Puerto Ricans worry their political leaders are squandering that opportunity by planning to rebuild the electricity grid with natural gas power plants that continue to emit greenhouse gases and feed lengthy transmission lines that are vulnerable to natural disasters.

Support the Striking UTIER Utility Workers in Puerto Rico!

By Carol Wheeler - International Workers Committee, July 4, 2021

As the Puerto Rican Electrical Industry and Irrigation Workers Union (UTIER) celebrates its 79th year, its union members are waging a fierce battle to save Puerto Rico’s power grid from the devastating effects of privatization. 

On June 22, 2020, the public utility Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) entered into a contract with LUMA Energy Corp., a joint U.S.-Canadian private conglomerate, for the operation and maintenance of the electric power transmission and distribution system. PREPA has been a public service for over 80 years. Massive debt, deteriorating infrastructure, and finally the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017 gave the U.S. government and Big Business what they had been seeking for some time — the full privatization of the Puerto Rican power grid and PREPA. 

Now, an expected $20 billion in emergency federal funds distributed through FEMA will allow LUMA Corp. to use the Hurricane Maria disaster to enrich its stockholders while doing little to fix the problems that exist with the Puerto Rican power grid. 

The contract signed between LUMA and the Puerto Rican government destroys the collective bargaining agreement between PREPA and its 3,000-plus workers, organized in UTIER. It undermines their pensions and allows the employer to set up a “preferred workers’ representative.” 

Written behind closed doors, without the input of elected officials accountable to Puerto Ricans, the contract effectively turns a public utility into a private monopoly. It allows LUMA to unilaterally determine the type of power to inject into the grid and includes no mandates or even any incentives to comply with local and federal renewable energy objectives. 

Most egregiously, LUMA has no obligation to remain in Puerto Rico in the case of a future natural disaster. LUMA could abandon its commitments, leaving Puerto Rico without any power company at all. 

UTIER workers have been on strike for months. They have taken to the streets along with other public-and private-sector unions to demand cancellation of the contract with LUMA. They have warned that the agreement with LUMA will increase the cost of electricity and destroy the jobs and livelihood of thousands of workers and their families. They have spearheaded mass mobilizations, national days of protest, and even a 24-hour nationwide general strike. 

Puerto Rican workers: No peace if energy is privatized

By various - Workers World, June 7, 2021

On June 1, the Financial Oversight and Management Board overseeing Puerto Rico’s economy privatized the island’s public power utilities by signing a $1.3 billion contract with private consortium LUMA Energy. The contract, in effect for the next 15 years, could increase electric rates by 10 cents/kwh or more.

LUMA customers are already encountering new fees and significantly higher bills than formerly paid to the public Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority. Thousands of PREPA workers have lost their jobs. The privatization has fueled demonstrations including encampments and picket lines at plant gates. Further actions could lead to mass protests similar to those in summer 2019 that forced former Governor Pedro Rosselló to resign.

The following is a statement from unions representing thousands of Puerto Rican workers, ranging from teachers to truck drivers, in support of PREPA workers and demanding the LUMA contract be repealed.

Puerto Rico unions close ranks against LUMA Energy

By Wilmarilis Sánchez-Romeu and Edwin Ocasio Feliciano - Struggle La Lucha, June 4, 2021

Union organizations today warned Gov. Pedro Pierluisi and the Financial Oversight and Management Board that they will paralyze the country if the LUMA Energy contract that increases rates, allows the consortium to leave Puerto Rico if a hurricane strikes, and displaces thousands of workers, is not canceled.

“We are warning the attorney for the Financial Oversight and Management Board, Pedro Pierluisi, that there will be no peace in Puerto Rico if the contract is not repealed and they listen to the people who demand, not only a public and more efficient Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), but also one free of fossil fuels. 

“Right now there is a favorable atmosphere for paralyzing the country and if the governor continues to ignore the people, we will do so. We have already held several meetings to coordinate logistics and dates, and this week we will meet again to finalize details. Make no mistake, this summer will be one very similar to that of 2019,” said Carlos Rodríguez, coordinator of the Frente Amplio de Camioneros (Broad Front of Truckers).

“Today, we tell LUMA not to bother settling in our country since we will not leave them alone until they leave Puerto Rico. And the workers who they intend to bring in from abroad should know that if they cross the picket line, they will face a people willing to defend their energy sovereignty and their access to water. There is no life without water and electricity! 

Ecosocialismo: Envisioning Latin America’s Green New Deal

Agroecology to Combat the Climate Crisis

Just Recovery Workshop: Another World is Possible

On The Front Lines: Climate Change Threatens the Health of America's Workers

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