Nearly 400,000 Puerto Rico power utility customers remain without service
SAN JUAN — The interim executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), Justo González, on Monday attributed the arrival of more grid-repair materials to the island to the change of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) leadership, and rejecting that the explosion in the Monacillo Transmission Center was caused by sabotage.
“The Corps of Engineers just had a change in leadership. Right now we have Col. Kirk, who is very focused on the issue of the materials. They brought an experienced person who was here at the beginning and returned. The flow of materials is easing a little bit, but as I said, anything that stops that flow of materials, could have an impact here,” González said in a WKAQ 580 radio interview.
The Prepa official explained that the lack of materials remains the biggest challenge in the power restoration efforts after Hurricane Maria. He assured that vessels have been arriving with materials, but these are not enough for the number of workers in the field.
“Since we have so many employees, including the North Americans of the Corps of Engineers, of the power utilities and our own, the flow is such that materials arrive and are gone just like that. Anything that stops the flow of materials can have an impact,” González said.
“At present, there are materials that are being manufactured at this time and will be delivered between one or two weeks,” he added. “We need transformers of different voltages and capacities; cabling for secondary lines is very important. The braided cable that is used to reach homes has become scarce at the moment,” he added.
The official explained that, 145 days after the Category-4 hurricane, 75.9 percent of Prepa’s customers have power restored. Meanwhile, 24.1 percent remain without power, which represents roughly 400,000 customers. The utility is generating 83.6 percent of the power it had on line the same time last year.
“We are working so that before the next hurricane season arrives [June 1] we will have 100 percent of Puerto Rico energized. We have enough brigades of the different power utilities in the United States,” he said.
On the work of repairing the fault from an explosion that occurred at the Monacillo Transmission Center, the official said in a statement that it will include the replacement of the damaged interruptor, an evaluation of the busbar on the affected switch, the insulators, and the auxiliary interruptors.
He estimated that the work will take about eight to 10 days, at a cost of around $150,000. He assured the work will not affect electric service to customers that were affected by the incident.
“We isolated the breaker that failed. Then we have to do a complete investigation of the event to know what happened and prevent it from happening again with another of the breakers. We have to check the lines,” González explained in the interview.
As informed, Units 5, 7, and 9 of the Central San Juan power complex are already in operation, as well as Unit 1 of the Central Palo Seco plant site and two generators USACE installed there. Both the Río Piedras Medical Center and Carolina’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport have power.
However, Prepa’s interim director stated that sectors in the rural areas of Trujillo Alto, Río Piedras, and the Los Paseos area remain without service.
González explained that 400 megawatts of generation were lost as a result of the event, but would be restored gradually as work is completed. This represents 10 percent to 12 percent, or about 180,000 customers, that already had had their power restored.
“What happened there somehow caused the oil to heat up suddenly and break the enclosure,” González said. “At the moment, we discard [sabotage]. We will do the investigation and in due course the investigation will reveal both the facts and the findings of what happened.”