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New York to Help Rebuild Puerto Rico Power Grid, Improve Emergency Response

By on February 10, 2021

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SAN JUAN — New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the renewal of an agreement between the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) to help Puerto Rico rebuild and “reimagine its power grid, organize and maximize efficiencies in its utility operations, and prepare for future severe storms and geological events,” his office said in a press release.

The agreement builds on a 2019 support agreement in which an NYPA team of engineers and power experts joined technical staff from Prepa to ramp up troubleshooting and assessments of the island’s generation system and work to mitigate the latest outages and prevent future disruptions. That additional assistance built on a 2018 Memorandum of Understanding.

Future planning for the island includes support for a proposed Vieques and Culebra islands hybrid microgrid project and developing a system hardening plan with new substations and underground utilities for Puerto Rico’s Humacao District, which was heavily damaged by the 2017 storms.

“When Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, New York stepped up to the plate on day one to deliver critical resources to the island and help our neighbors recover in their time of need,” Cuomo said. “This renewed partnership will allow us to continue our important work to build back Puerto Rico’s power system stronger and more resilient than it was before and help ensure the island is prepared to withstand severe weather events in the future.” 

Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi was quoted as saying: “My administration looks forward to building on the relationship that Governor Cuomo and the New York Power Authority have established with the Puerto Rican people. We are grateful for the assistance New York’s utility team provided in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and we look forward to extending this productive partnership.” 

Under previous mutual aid agreements, NYPA offered “a broad range of technical expertise that helped Puerto Rico define and estimate their restoration and resiliency needs,” the release reads. “That consultation helped result in the award late last year of several billions of dollars in federal disaster recovery aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist with recovery and rebuilding of the island’s energy infrastructure. 

“After the aid was awarded, NYPA teams also worked closely with PREPA, during a very tight 90-day window — and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — to prepare a detailed 10-year spending plan for the FEMA funds that includes a list of projects, schedules and cost estimates related to upgrading the energy infrastructure to the latest utility codes & standards with emphasis on smart-grid technologies.”

In addition to helping the Puerto Rico utility prepare the FEMA documentation, NYPA helped inspect 50 energy substations following the earthquakes early last year and assisted in restoring power to hundreds of homes across the island. NYPA also helped prepare damage assessments and cost estimates to facilitate insurance claims.

As an owner and operator of several state-serving hydroelectric power plants, NYPA has also been instrumental in sharing industry best practices with regard to the operation and structural integrity of Puerto Rico’s seven small hydropower plants and numerous dams, the release points out. 

Under the terms of the new agreement, which will be in effect through June, NYPA will continue to offer consultation relating to the rebuilding of Puerto Rico’s grid, focusing specifically on these areas listed by the Cuomo’s office: 

Technical Assistance and Advocacy
NYPA will offer technical assistance to help stabilize Puerto Rico’s power grid and help prepare recommendations for rebuilding and hardening the island’s power system so that it is better able to withstand the types of destructive weather events encountered on the island over the last decade.NYPA is actively working with PREPA on a power system model to integrate renewables and distributed energy resources, such as microgrids, into the islands of Vieques and Culebra. This will prepare the utility to plan for necessary upgrades to manage these resources and serve communities throughout Puerto Rico. 

Reform Management and Operations
NYPA assisted PREPA in rebuilding its grid and reforming management and operations practices using lessons learned from NYPA’s experience in helping the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) manage power and infrastructure needs after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 — one of the most destructive and costliest hurricanes in U.S. history. 

Strengthen Emergency Preparedness
NYPA will help PREPA strengthen its emergency preparedness and resiliency initiatives as it rethinks its response to significant events, facilitates resolution of existing core challenges in Puerto Rico and pursues continuous improvement of its energy operations.

“Additionally, at the direction of Governor Cuomo, the Department of Public Service, the New York State utility regulator, has been actively engaged with the state’s utilities to enhance emergency response plans, develop plans to enable utilities to support one another with crewing during weather events, and continue efforts to make the electric system more resilient and reliable when implementing capital investments,” the release adds.

Between November 2017 and April 2018 more than 450 New York State utility personnel, led by NYPA, helped restore power in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017. They brought with them hundreds of bucket trucks, diggers, excavators and other specialized equipment to complete the necessary repairs to damaged transmission and distribution lines, “and worked 16-hour days, seven days-a-week to help restore power,” the release recalled.

NYPA is the largest state public power organization in the United States, operating 16 generating facilities and more than 1,400 circuit-miles of transmission lines. More than 80 percent of the electricity NYPA produces is hydropower. NYPA uses no tax money or state credit. It finances its operations through the sale of bonds and revenues earned in large part through sales of electricity.

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