Electricity Generation in Puerto Rico Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria

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On November 17, 2017, Ricardo Ramos stepped down as the executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). Governor Ricardo Rosselló quickly accepted his resignation and noted that controversies connected to Ramos’s decisions post-Maria had become a distraction. Once he appointed an interim replacement, Rosselló reemphasized that the goal is to restore electricity to 95% of PREPA’s customers by Christmas. Is this objective feasible? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as noted in previous posts, has made it clear that they expect to restore power to most Puerto Ricans by February 2018.

In today’s graph, we chart the percentage of electricity generated by PREPA from September 5, 2017 – the day before Hurricane Irma skirted the island’s northeast coast – to November 17.

The data before September 29, 2017 was collected by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office for Infrastructure Security and Energy Restoration. The rest has been made public in the Puerto Rican’s Government Portal – StatusPR. This is not to say that this portal’s information is accurate. For instance, on November 15 it reported that PREPA’s electricity production was at 50% but the information did not take into account a power outage that reduced production to around 20%, increasing to 37% by that night.

As of today, November 18, PREPA’s electricity generation is still under 50%. It is not clear how many Puerto Ricans actually have electricity at home, as PREPA and the Puerto Rican government claim that they can’t provide an accurate estimate. The U.S. Department of Energy on November 16 noted that 57 out of 78 municipalities “are partially energized or have energized facilities”.

Many Puerto Ricans, especially in the island’s interior, have had no power for over 70 days.


Do Puerto Ricans Pay the Highest Electricity Rates in the United States?

Comparatively speaking, do Puerto Rico’s residents pay the highest electricity rates in the United States (U.S.)? The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) collects data on the price of electricity for residential, commercial and industrial customers for all the U.S. states and, since 2014, for Puerto Rico.  The 2016 and 2017 data is preliminary. Thus, for this analysis we will look at 2015 electricity rates for residential customers.

The average price of electricity for residential customers in 2015 was 12.7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). The scatterplot below helps us visualize the country’s different rates. Hawaii had the highest prices at 29.3 cents kWh, followed by Alaska and Connecticut.  Puerto Rico, at 20.3 cents per kWh, had the fourth highest price in the nation.

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Even though this plot shows that Hawaii had the nation’s highest residential electricity rates in 2015, looking at this rate is not the best approach to see whether Puerto Ricans pay more for electricity than the residents of the other states. For that reason, we should look at how much of the median household’s income is devoted to electricity.

The U.S. Census estimates that the median household income for the U.S. was $56,516. At $40,593, Mississippi’s median household income was the lowest among the country’s 50 states. Maryland has the highest median household income at $75,847, while Puerto Rico’s median household earned around $18,626.

The median U.S. household devotes around 2.5% of its income to pay for electricity. The table below lists the 10 states which devote the least percentage of median household income towards electricity.

States Where the Median Household Devotes the Least Percentage of Income to Electricity (2015)
Utah 1.54%
Colorado 1.57%
Washington 1.64%
District of Columbia 1.73%
Minnesotta 1.75%
California 1.76%
Illinois 1.81%
Wyoming 1.82%
New Jersey 1.83%
Alaska 1.96%

The next table lists the 10 states where residents dedicate the highest percentage of their income to electricity.

States Where the Median Household Devotes the Highest Percentage of Income to Electricity (2015)
Louisiana 3.15%
Arkansas 3.15%
West Virginia 3.19%
Florida 3.21%
Tennessee 3.26%
North Carolina 3.43%
South Carolina 3.66%
Alabama 3.82%
Mississippi 4.06%
Puerto Rico 5.19%

What can we learn from this short analysis?

  • While Hawaii has the country’s highest electricity rates, its median household income is $73,486. Thus, the median Hawaiian household dedicates 3% of its income to pay for electricity.
  • The median Puerto Rican household, in contrast, dedicates more than 5% of its income towards electricity. This is more than double the national average, reminding us that:
    • Puerto Ricans are not only devoting the highest percentage of their income towards their electricity bills.
    • The median Puerto Rican household earns only $18,626, which is $37,890 less than the national average or $21,967 less than Mississippi, the U.S. state with the lowest median household income.

What Can We Learn About Puerto Rico’s Electricity Consumption from 2009 to 2017?

Puerto Rico’s economic recession started in 2006. Since then, the Puerto Rican government’s economic activity index has plummeted, its public debt has dramatically increased, and many Puerto Ricans have moved to the U.S. mainland. What impact have these trends had on Puerto Rico’s production and consumption of electricity. Can these measures help us explain the island’s economic crisis?

For this post, I accessed data collected by the Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico on the total consumption of electricity by the island’s residential, commercial and industrial sectors. Rather than using monthly totals, I reorganized the dataset into quarters.

Let’s look at the total residential consumption of electricity. On the whole, the residents’ consumption of electricity from the first quarter of 2009 to the last quarter of 2017 has declined slightly. The graph below includes a trendline that allows us to measure the overall decrease in the consumption of electricity.

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Our second graph is similar to the first but it looks at the commercial sector’s consumption of electricity in the same time period. A trendline is also included for the same purposes and it demonstrates a modest reduction in the total amount of electricity consumed.

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The last graph follows the same format, but it is worth pointing out that the industrial sector’s consumption of electricity has decreased by a significant amount. And it is this graph that really explains Puerto Rico’s economic predicament.

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What conclusions can we draw from these graphs? These trends suggest that the economic recession has impacted the industrial sector at a higher rate than the residential or commercial sectors. The fact that industries in Puerto Rico are consuming less electricity suggests that many may have relocated to new jurisdictions, gone out of business, or lower their output. In addition, lower levels of electricity consumption in the industrial sector may explain lower levels of electricity consumption in the residential and commercial sectors too. Indeed, a weaker industrial sector may have led to higher unemployment rates, lower demand for commercial services, and to higher emigration rates among middle class Puerto Ricans to the U.S. mainland.

The U.S. Media’s Decreasing Coverage of Puerto Rico’s Recovery Efforts

Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló is requesting the U.S. Congress for a disaster relief package of $94.4 billion to reconstruct the island’s infrastructure and more than 400,000 houses destroyed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. If history is prologue, Puerto Rican officials will have to get ready to fight back fiscal conservatives who will arduously work to trim the request by several billions of dollars.

Although Puerto Rico has many allies in Congress, they are not powerful enough to take on the Republican establishment. One way to pressure Congress to support the island’s financial needs is to rally the American public to their side. If a majority of Americans called on their congressional delegation to support Puerto Rico’s request, there is a good chance that the Republican leadership will soften its opposition. But the success of this strategy is linked to the U.S. media’s coverage of the island’s struggles, which has decreased since President Donald Trump’s controversial visit to Puerto Rico in early October.

The three graphs below demonstrate the U.S. media’s waning interest in Puerto Rico’s recovery. The first graph looks at the U.S. online media environment, which includes newspapers such as The New York Times, online news publications like the The Daily Beast and popular political blogs like The Daily Kos or The Blaze. I used Media Cloud’s open source platform to search the number of sentences that make a reference to Puerto Rico in news stories from September 1 to November 10, 2017. Media Cloud connected these sentences to 32,314 articles. As noted above, the online news media’s interest in Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts was strongest in early October before and after President Trump’s visit to the island.

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The next two graphs captures the national news networks’ and the affiliate networks’ coverage of Puerto Rico from September 1 to November 10, 2017. To collect this data, I searched the content of the Television News Archive, using GDELT’s Television Explorer search engine. The graphs calculates the number of mentions Puerto Rico earned each day.

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Similar to the nation’s online media, TV news networks’ coverage of Puerto Rico has waned since early October.

Will Governor Rosselló’s request of $94.4 billion win over enough Congressional support? It is too early to say. One way to pressure Congress to act is by calling on Americans to support Puerto Rico’s financial needs. But this will require the U.S. media to devote more attention to the island’s current challenges and its future opportunities. What do you think? Is Puerto Rico asking for too much money? Will Republicans support the Governor’s request or will they cut the package by several billions of dollars? Will the Trump administration support this request and its price tag?

Puerto Rico’s Veteran Population

How many veterans live in Puerto Rico? How does this population compare to the United States’ overall veterans population?

Before I start this analysis, we need to keep in mind Harry Franqui-Rivera’s research on Puerto Rican veterans. His work demonstrates that a great number of island-born Puerto Ricans who enlisted in the military did not settle in Puerto Rico following the end of their military careers. Thus, the numbers of veterans in the island does not equate the number of island-born Puerto Ricans who have served in the U.S. military.

Indeed, Franqui-Rivera’s works shows that Puerto Ricans’ military service has helped many island-born Puerto Ricans resettle in the U.S. mainland. In a recent essay, he explains that the island’s current economic woes have accelerated this process.

In this post, I will be using the U.S. Census’s 2015 American Community Survey for Puerto Rico and the United States to compare both populations. It is worth noting that some of the veterans living in Puerto Rico may not be island-born Puerto Ricans.

According to the 2015 estimates, the United States’ veteran population was 18,830,450 and Puerto Rico’s was 95,342, representing 0.5% of the total. While 8.4% of all veterans were women, in the island the figure is lower by 3.2%.

In line with Franqui-Rivera’s findings, and as illustrated in the graph below, 57% of Puerto Rico’s veterans are 64 years or older.

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The fact that many of the island-born veterans reside in the U.S. mainland can be demonstrated by the next graph, which breaks down veterans’ military service by war periods.

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Given Puerto Rico’s economic troubles, it is not surprising that the island’s veteran population is on average worse off economically than veterans in the United States. chart (47)

If we look at veterans’ educational attainment, the story is a a bit mixed. More than 40% of Puerto Rico’s veterans did not attend post-secondary education programs. But, on average the number of veterans with a college degree is higher in Puerto Rico than in the United States.

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One surprising finding in the 2015 estimates is the number of veterans who have been classified as disabled. The average number of disabled veterans is higher in Puerto Rico than in the total U.S. veteran population.

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What explains this difference? I am not exactly sure and it is an issue that deserves closer attention. However, one plausible explanation is that the Department of Veterans Affairs may be providing many of these disabled veterans some sort of financial compensation which insulates them from the island’s economic troubles.  In this manner, we can hypothesize that most island-born veterans would like to return to Puerto Rico once they end their years of military service, but given the island’s economic troubles they are force to relocate to the U.S. mainland.