Despite multibillion-dollar power-restoration in Puerto Rico, outages loom
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico’s electric power restoration after Hurricane María mangled the island’s grid entailed an estimated $2.5 billion. The utility is now entering a phase that consists of improving the temporary work done to put the lights back on as quickly as possible, which means outages are imminent during the coming six months.
That is what José Ortiz, the executive director of the Puerto RIco Electric Power Authority (Prepa), said in a WKAQ radio interview Wednesday.
“Now…there are some [power restoration] jobs that have to be made stronger,” the official said. “There will be one or more blackouts in one sector or another because we have to remove [utility] poles that aren’t installed in the best way. We’re going to be notifying people in time so they know when there’ll be some [work done] to be able to change their poles to firmer ones and do a job well done.”
“In the next six months, there are going to be many little jobs like that, to fix the things I call patches so they have a firm system,” he added. “Many patches were made to bring power to many sectors and now it has to be done correctly.”
Ortiz said 100% of the island already has electricity and that on Tuesday the last sector was energized, Real Anón neighborhood, a “steep and distant” area north of Ponce. However, he said there are still several homes and a business in the La Muralla sector in Río Grande that have not had power restored because an authorization from the U.S. Forest Service is needed to place several wood poles throughout the El Yunque rainforest. The permit was requested in March, but has not been granted.
The utility chief also said many island residents who had left in the aftermath of the storm were returning to their homes and requesting electric power service again.
Among other changes he mentioned on Prepa’s agenda are a lighting project that will be implemented in several sectors around the island; the billing system, which was disrupted after the hurricane, will be improved; the establishment of a second call center to minimize wait times; and the installation of smart meters.
In addition, Ortiz said that the island-municipalities of Vieques and Culebra will be “self-sufficient” in that they will be 75% powered by solar energy, with the rest produced with generators. The submarine cables will be used as backup. He also said the wind turbine along Kennedy Avenue in San Juan will be restarted shortly and save Prepa about $60,000.