Plans Are Announced To Privatize Puerto Rico's Electric Utility Gov. Ricardo Rossello announced plans Monday to privatize the island's troubled electric utility. In a speech, he said the process of selling off the public utility's assets would begin in days.
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Plans Are Announced To Privatize Puerto Rico's Electric Utility

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Plans Are Announced To Privatize Puerto Rico's Electric Utility

Plans Are Announced To Privatize Puerto Rico's Electric Utility

Plans Are Announced To Privatize Puerto Rico's Electric Utility

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Gov. Ricardo Rossello announced plans Monday to privatize the island's troubled electric utility. In a speech, he said the process of selling off the public utility's assets would begin in days.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Puerto Rico, a third of homes and businesses are still, still without electricity months after Hurricane Maria flattened the power grid there. The island's publicly owned power utility has been dogged by issues for years. And now Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rossello, is trying something new. He has a plan to privatize the power company over the next 18 months. Here's NPR's Adrian Florido.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: In a televised address from the governor's mansion, Rossello harshly criticized the public utility, which he said had abandoned maintenance of the electric grid over the last decade, making it ripe for the total destruction it suffered during Hurricane Maria.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICARDO ROSSELLO: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "The electric energy authority will cease to exist the way it so deficiently does today," Rossello said. He added that in the coming days, the government would begin working to sell the utility to private companies, which he said would transform the electric grid into a, quote, "modern, efficient and less expensive one."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROSSELLO: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "This will be Puerto Rico's leap toward modernity," the governor said. In Puerto Rico, nearly a third of the public utility's customers remain without electricity more than four months after Maria. As it's struggled to restore power, the utility known as PREPA has also been mired in controversy facing accusations of issuing inflated grid repair contracts and uphoarding (ph) critical supplies needed to fix the power grid. PREPA is also $9 billion in debt. Talk of privatizing it has been going on since before Maria hit.

In August, the board that the U.S. Congress put in place to oversee Puerto Rico's troubled finances signaled support for privatization.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: After the governor's address on Monday, Thomas Rivera Schatz, the president of Puerto Rico's Senate, said legislative leaders support the plan and will pass a bill to make it legal. Others were critical. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz tweeted that the plan was putting the island's economic future in the hands of private interests. Ex-governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla said he was worried about the jobs of utility workers. The Utility Workers Union also opposes privatization. On Monday evening, Jose Ortiz Rodriguez (ph) was sitting in a plaza near the governor's mansion in San Juan. He said he opposed privatizing the electric utility, too.

JOSE ORTIZ RODRIGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "I think the government made its work difficult on purpose," he said, "so it could justify this move." But Angel Antonio Lopez (ph), who was sitting nearby, said he was happy about the plan.

ANGEL ANTONIO LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "Because it'll bring more competition," he said, "and we'll be able to choose the utility company that serves us best." Adrian Florido, NPR News, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right, we do want to mention a developing story we're watching closely this morning. A tsunami warning has been issued for the coast of Alaska. Authorities are urging coastal residents to move to higher ground after a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck some 160 miles off the coast of Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska. There are no immediate reports of damage or injuries. We're going to bring you the latest developments on this story as they come in.

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