Puerto Rico electric utility requests American Public Power Association help
SAN JUAN – A letter sent by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) to the American Public Power Association (APPA) and Edison Electric Institute (EEI) is an urgent call for assistance in restoring the island’s electric grid, a challenge the entities accepted.
“Due to the catastrophic destruction to our electrical infrastructure following hurricanes Irma and Maria, I urgently request your assistance in restoring the electrical infrastructure of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority,” the letter from Prepa Executive Director Ricardo Ramos reads.
Ramos, who has been criticized for not having requested help from APPA as soon as the hurricanes passed, now has asked APPA, a nonprofit, mutual aid trade group and the EEI, which represents all U.S. investor-owned electric companies, to send at least 600 crews to repair transmission and distribution lines; five helicopters; and managerial support for logistics coordination, housing and transportation to repair “the catastrophic destruction” of the island’s grid.
Ramos and the secretary of Public Affairs at La Fortaleza, Ramón Rosario, have admitted this week that the work and repair of the main transmission and electrical distribution lines has been delayed, and that to meet the aggressive goals imposed by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, Puerto Rico needs about 1,000 crews working at different levels of operation in the field.
“Bear in mind that extensive portions of the transmission lines in Puerto Rico run through rugged mountainous terrain with little or no road access. Also, that there are subcontracted crews in Puerto Rico, including APPA members, that already have mobilized men and heavy equipment, have become familiar with operations and may be at your disposal creating minimal delays in restoration work,” he said.
The letter sent to APPA President Sue Kelly and to EEI Director Tom Kuhn highlights the relationship the entities have with the electric sector that can help speed up the restoration work.
More than 200 brigades were expected this week to arrive to the island, most of them subcontracted by Whitefish Energy Holdings, but after announcing the cancellation of their contract, Prepa has had to search for other ways to hire such personnel.
Ramos pointed out, however, that in principle, the requested aid comes from public and private utilities of the State of New York, since the design of their systems is similar to Puerto Rico’s, and they have gone through similar emergencies with Hurricane Sandy.
However, Ramos anticipated in the letter, due to the magnitude of the damage and the need for some expertise, that “we may need additional support from utilities around the United States,” saying, “Public and private utilities from Florida are also available and can mobilize quickly due to distance and transportation logistics between Florida and Puerto Rico.”
In addition to the crews coordinated by APPA and the EEI, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is in charge of managing the recovery of the island’s grid after Hurricane Maria, has hired Fluor Corp. and PowerSecure, but there are no details about when and on what projects they would be working. Prepa also has contracted Cobra Acquisitions to support the reconstruction work.
“The EEI and our member companies welcome today’s request from Prepa, which now allows our industry on the [U.S.] mainland to fully support the critical power restoration efforts underway in Puerto Rico,” said Kuhn in written remarks. “We are already working with our member companies to mobilize crews, equipment and technical experts in response to today’s letter.”
Hurricane Maria caused historic damage to Puerto Rico, and considerable logistical issues remain, Kelly said. “We know that restoring power to Puerto Rico will be challenging,” she added. “Much of the infrastructure will need to be rebuilt before power can be restored. While this is not a typical restoration process, we are fully committed to overcoming those challenges and bringing our experience and resources to Puerto Rico.”