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Puerto Rico Engineers Assoc. says San Juan plant must be powered up to stabilize grid

By on December 1, 2017

SAN JUAN – The Engineers & Land Surveyors Association (CIAPR by its Spanish initials) reiterated Thursday the importance of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) utilizing the Central Palo Seco site in Cataño to stabilize the island’s grid.

In testimony before a joint House and Senate committee, the association’s president, engineer Pablo Vázquez, pointed out that contrary to what Prepa has indicated, the powerplant can be put to work, even if partially. The utility’s Irrigation & Electrical Workers Union (Utier by its Spanish acronym) echoed the group of engineers’ position.

CIAPR President Pablo Vázquez explained that power service in the northern part of the island will remain unstable as long as the load is not balanced. (Felipe Torres / CB)

“What we have in the north is an imbalance between the service generators and the load, where the load dominates,” Vázquez said. “If we put the Palo Seco units in service, we increase the inertia, balance the generator to load ratio, maintaining greater stability.”

However, Utier President Ángel Figueroa warned that powering up the units cannot be done immediately because work on the boilers and cooling towers, which would take about three weeks, has to be completed.

The union leader explained that in order to comply with Environmental Protection Agency regulations, the boilers need chemical baths, which will could take two to three weeks. In addition zinc parts on the cooling towers and insulation in other areas must be replaced.

Vázquez said electric service in the north will remain unstable as long as it is unbalanced. The “imbalance” he refers to, he said, has to do with the grid having low inertia, which affects the system’s ability to regulate itself.

“Inertia is provided by the number of generators online. To have healthy inertia in synchronous systems of a power network, there must be the capacity to maintain a frequency of 60 hertz [Hz],” Vázquez explained.

The importance of having a capacity greater than 60 Hz is so the system can withstand sudden changes in generation or failures.

Another reason to power up Palo Seco, Vázquez said, is that when the EPA grants the permits for the generating units, it considers the emissions of the past five years as their limit.

If when the federal permits are requested, some of the Palo Seco units are not operating, the registered emission levels will be much lower, which could affect the authorization of other units.

Currently, Alstom Caribe, a subsidiary of General Electric, is working under a $4.9 million contract to carry out the repairs identified in a report, whose results were announced in August but the corporation knew about since the beginning of the year.

Prepa interim Executive Director Justo González sent written testimony for the hearing, informing that the itinerary the utility received from Alstom sets Jan. 30 as the date on which the work on Palo Seco units 1 and 3 would be completed.

For Sen. Larry Seilhamer, repair work must be accelerated so the site can be operational within six months.

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