The whole of Puerto Rico went dark Monday morning as landslides, mudslides and catastrophic flooding overwhelmed the island’s electricity grid – a frail grid that never recovered from the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in late 2017.

Homes are flooded on Salinas Beach in Salinas, Puerto Rico, on Monday after the passing of Hurricane Fiona, which left 1.3 million people without power. On the island the transmission and distribution of electricity, which were taken over by an unpopular private consortium in 2021, have been woefully mismanaged for years.  Alejandro Granadillo/Associated Press

For the past five years, rolling blackouts have become a part of daily life in Puerto Rico, where the transmission and distribution of electricity, which were taken over by an unpopular private consortium in 2021, have been woefully mismanaged for years.

By yesterday afternoon, Hurricane Fiona left 1.3 million customers without power on the island; more than 1,000 stranded people had been rescued; and one man had died – he and his wife were reportedly trying to get a generator going.

A historic storm also hit Alaska over the weekend, pummeling coastal communities, sinking boats and pushing houses off their foundations. On Sunday, Japan was struck by a “super typhoon,” one of the most powerful to ever make landfall in the nation.

Crippling weather events like these, exacerbated and made more frequent by climate change, lead to crippling pressure on power grids.

Closer to home, look at what the last 12 months have been like for Texas, which is on its own grid. Deadly, seldom-seen snow and ice knocked out power for 3.5 million people last winter. The summer that followed was no less cruel, leading the state’s grid operator to ask customers to limit the use of air conditioning between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. … in triple-digit heat.


The “weatherizing” of grid infrastructure is by now a priority of operators the world over, which brings us to Maine, and to Central Maine Power, which has begun the process of encouraging customers to steel themselves for rate hikes that it says are necessary to protect the system.

The Press Herald’s Tux Turkel put it well in the opening lines of his reporting this past Sunday: “The fingerprints of climate change and how to respond to its impacts are scattered among the hundreds of pages of initial testimony filed with state regulators in early August by Central Maine Power, which is seeking a three-year rate hike.”

As CMP makes its case, Maine households are suddenly having to think about the state of the electric grid in unexpected detail. Thirty-thousand-foot talk of a “grid update plan” will likely do little to ease the sting of a utility bill increased by as much as $10 per month, a prospect the governor was swift to call “outrageous.”

Consternation over the proposed hike has strengthened the limelight on a proposed consumer-owned utility, Pine Tree Power. A trio of economists writing in this newspaper last year said the proposed entity could save Mainers $9 billion on electric bills over 30 years.

Environmental advocates warn of a further downside to a for-profit utility charging electricity customers more; that hiking rates, even in the name of climate change, risks driving consumers toward a tipping point, pushing them away from technologies that should be central to correcting the energy-use mix: heat pumps, electric vehicles and other alternatives.

The rates case is just beginning; the Public Utilities Commission will decide whether it will apply (starting in September) sometime next summer. The effect of rate increases on Maine’s transition to green energy, already taking place too slowly, should certainly be front and center.

CMP may hope that by conjuring up images of automated switchboards that help speedily restore power in storms, or of a host of disintegrating electricity poles statewide (about 70,000, each more than 60 years old), the increased rates may seem more reasonable. Such an expectation wouldn’t be a stretch – as the reports from Puerto Rico and beyond indicate, the need for better resilience has never been greater than it is now.

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