Aggressive targets to restore power service announced in Puerto Rico
SAN JUAN – The new goal to restore Hurricane María’s island-wide disruption of electric service in Puerto Rico is that the utility will be operating at 95% in terms of power generation by mid-December, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Saturday.
Alongside the governor, Ricardo Ramos, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), reiterated that the safety concerns that led the public corporation to close its Palo Seco power station in August remain.
As for restoring the island’s electric grid, Rosselló said the strategy is two-pronged to ensure service is restored and the system be modernized.
“We have two objectives that seemingly are interconnected but run parallel. First, how do we provide Puerto Ricans with electricity quickest; and second, how do we do it in such a way that we don’t sacrifice an opportunity to build an energy system that is better and more effective for the people of Puerto Rico?” the governor said without providing further details.
After several outages, power generation was ramped Saturday to 14%, and the target for October is 30%. While for the end of November, the goal is to achieve providing 80%. Five percent, the mountain region area, is not expected to have service restored by the end of the year. Rosselló said the island’s topography makes it difficult to assure having service restored to the central region within that time frame.
However, Director Ramos, explained that the cited percentages do not reflect the number of utility customers with service.
“At this moment it’s very difficult for us to say how many customers have service. What we can say is the percentage of generation we are producing,” he said.
As for the three failures at the San Juan plant, which feeds power to the metropolitan area, Ramos said improperly updated equipment was the culprit, adding that the rest of the areas on the island that have power, thanks to four other plants, have not had outages.
Rosselló said the new, more-aggressive goals, were able to be set thanks to the collaboration of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) as well as that of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which has provided $97 million, with another $128 million exclusively for Prepa on the way.
In addition to the bureaucratic and financial hurdles to restore service, Ramos said that increasing the number of brigades is an essential element to speed up the work. To date, there are 294 brigades on repair duty, of which 231 belong to Prepa, but the number is expected to total 966 within the next three weeks.
“With that number of brigades we will be able to advance much more in the restoration work. I have never made a personal commitment to not put pressure on Authority employees, but at this moment, with the help we are getting at the federal level, I can tell you it won’t take six months,” Ramos said.
The 228% increase in the number of brigades, Ramos added, is thanks to the integration of the federal government and the private sector.
“We have the Corps of Engineers’s support; the Authority has mobilized private resources as well. We have 60 Puerto Rican companies, locals, providing service for the electric system’s repair,” said Ramos, who did not rule out the number of brigades being increased further.
In addition to contracting, Prepa is receiving materials for the grid’s repair daily. It has received 1.74 million tons of tools and equipment, including lift-basket and service-crane trucks. Some 145 tons of materials are flown in daily, with two maritime cargo ships coming a week.
As for the Palo Seco plant, Ramos showed pictures of its boilers and surrounding areas on the site that revealed damage to infrastructure, mainly due to corrosion. The images, dated Aug. 23 and 24, are from a report prepared by New York-based Island Structures Engineering on the site located between Cataño and Toa Baja.
In the past few days, the president of the utility’s Irrigation & Electrical Workers Union (Utier by its Spanish acronym), Ángel Figueroa demanded that Palo Seco be used to support electric generation in the north, since Prepa had made the report justifying the closure of its operations public. After Saturday’s press conference, the governor’s office provided a copy of the report to the media.
According to the report, load system connections in Palo Seco units 3 and 4 are “compromised,” and extensive infrastructure work has to be carried out. The study also indicates that while critical area repair work is being conducted, access to personnel must be restricted.
Palo Seco is a very large complex, with many areas that have been closed, Ramos said, but some units are providing power to the San Juan plant.