One More Blackout in Puerto Rico as Monacillos Ploy Fails
Guaynabo, PUERTO RICO – Patience is running thin among members of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s (Prepa) skeleton crews at the Central San Juan as they continue to see generation shut down as the grid comes online at too slow a pace.
After the most recent blackout Thursday morning, frustration was running high because a preventive measure to protect Central San Juan by rerouting current through the Monacillos plant failed to protect the units.
“We re-routed current through Monacillos; this way we figured we could protect the breakers, some of which are not in optimal condition and fail to open preventing an overload of generation,” a Monacillos engineer told Caribbean Business.
The Prepa brigades had been successful in challenging conventional wisdom in the immediate aftermath of the storm when they utilized two units at the Palo Seco plant—once closed, and rendered obsolete—to reignite Central San Juan, which had to be shut down because all distribution lines were down. If power plants do not distribute electricity at the same rate they generate power, units auto-protect and shut down.
The utility’s generation brigades had another power outage in the North, past midnight Saturday. “We saw an opportunity to fix unit No. 9 at Central San Juan to provide greater balance as we continued to feed more of the areas coming on line with transmission and distribution,” said another Prepa engineer who chose to remain nameless.
“We were using units 7 and 4 and we wanted to balance generation and we tried to feed more with hydro-gas units at Palo Seco, while we repaired the Central San Juan unit. During the switch, we lost the grid. We have had two incidences of human error in the early stages of this disaster; this time it was sound reasoning that backfired. We are back online.”
Many of the Prepa veterans, who had dealt with challenges in the aftermath of hurricanes Hugo and Georges are now long gone as a consequence of austerity measures that were implemented in the restructuring of the bankrupt monopoly’s $9 billion debt load.
“We are a skeleton crew; where we had 24 workers, we now have four, and now we need help but those who have arrived need to consult with the people who know the grid. Don’t press buttons before asking, ‘What’s this button for?’ Let’s work together.”
There is also a rift developing between some of the electric engineers inside the plants and the administration as Prepa Executive Director Ricardo Ramos remains adamant about not using units at the Palo Seco plant itself, basing his decision on a report that indicates the decommissioned plant has structural integrity issues.
“We are very fortunate nothing happened [to Palo Seco] with María [but] the fact that nothing happened during María, as an engineer, I take as: If it was weak before, now it’s weaker. The Palo Seco plant won’t be operating under any circumstance,” he said during a press conference Thursday.
That rigid stance is not shared by people working inside the plants, some of whom believe they could use Unit 1.
“We can use Unit 1 and achieve greater balance, just as we did with the hydro-gas units on Palo Seco grounds right after the storm,” said the Prepa engineer employed at Central San Juan. “Right now we are using units 5, 7 and 9 [90 megawatts], but we need greater balance as the grid comes on line. Otherwise, if we keep going from blackout to blackout and we damage the little generation we have, then we are in deep trouble.”
The creativity being employed in the north will have to do for now as the primary lines coming from the power plants in the south are still down.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held a press conference last week during which it informed that it would be helping to establish a plan to restore Puerto Rico’s torn transmission and distribution lines. Many citizens in the dark are asking when will they commence the hard work as many of the restored lines in the north have been put up by private brigades that are assisting Prepa’s skeleton crews.