Was Puerto Rico's Power Grid Really 'Dead' Before Maria?

President Donald Trump said Puerto Rico's power grid was "dead" before hurricanes Irma and Maria. Not quite.
Posted at 8:22 PM, Sep 20, 2018

You probably remember in the run-up to Hurricane Florence, President Donald Trump called the federal response to Hurricane Maria an "unsung success." He later tried to claim the close to 3,000-person death toll wasn't accurate.

There were some other claims he made at the same time that were overshadowed and didn't get quite as much attention.

"The problem with Puerto Rico is their electric grid and their electric generating plant was dead before the storms ever hit," the president said. "It was in very bad shape. It was in bankruptcy. It had no money. It was largely — you know, it was largely closed."

The electric grid was in very bad shape, yes. But it wasn't dead. All electric customers were being served in Puerto Rico before Hurricanes Irma and Maria came through. 

That said, about 30 percent of the island's power generating plants were offline before the storms. That's not the same thing as the power grid, though. 

The president's reference to the Puerto Rican electric utility's financial situation is accurate. It was bankrupt. It still is. It has about $9 billion in debt.

And the island's electric grid was very fragile. It has a history of easily triggered, widespread and prolonged power outages. 

So, Puerto Rico's electric utility was unreliable and vulnerable before Irma and Maria. But it wasn't dead. All electric customers were being served before the storms, and between Irma and Maria, the government was able to get the lights back on for 96 percent of its electric customers.

It took almost 11 months for power to come back on island-wide after Maria.