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Puerto Rico gov says major San Juan powerplant not ready to run

By on October 19, 2017

The Palo Seco power complex was closed in August on the recommendation of a report commissioned by Prepa that was made public Saturday. (Felipe Torres / CB)

SAN JUAN – The power station Central Palo Seco in Cataño, Puerto Rico, will not be operational for four to six months, thus electric service for the island’s metropolitan area will depend on two temporary generators that will provide 50 megawatts and that a 230-kilowatt line from Guayanilla is energized.

“There have been many stories [going around] here, and I want to be clear: This isn’t ready to be turned on,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said about the Palo Seco plant, which supplied energy to much of the metro area in the past.

The governor made his remarks at a hastily arranged press conference, which dozens of reporters were allowed to cover outside the plant but not given access to the complex.

At the site, there are two recently installed General Electric generators that are slated to be turned on Oct. 25 to supplement two gas turbines, which are running outside the main structure. These generators are being worked on by Weston Solutions, which was contracted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

At the same time, General Electric was also contracted for about $4 million to stabilize the structure of the Palo Seco plant so it can be started, which Rosselló said could take four to six months.

One of two General Electric generators that will be used to power two turbines in Pal Seco.(Felipe Torres / CB)

Before the governor spoke, engineer Justo González Torres, director of generation at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), said that since the plant’s temporary closure was announced in August, plans had already been made to repair it. An assessment of Hurricane Maria’s impact on the plant is underway.

“There is a critical phase, which is preventing it from falling,” he said when explaining that the units inside the main structure at Palo Seco cannot be turned on to prevent vibration from triggering its collapse.

During the tour, which lasted about 20 minutes, Caribbean Business was able to observe a great amount of corrosion in Palo Seco, evidence of a lack of maintenance. In an aside with the press, Rosselló reiterated the findings of a report on the delicate state of the plant’s structure.

Palo Seco Report Raises More Energy Questions in Puerto Rico

However, the governor was confident that his his goal of having 95% of the island with power by December will be met since the electric utility’s generation was already at 19% Wednesday.

“There are some areas that are going to be very difficult to reach…but I trust that with the brigades [and] the commitment of the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers], it can be achieved,” the governor said. Additional repair teams are arriving during the next two weeks, for an expected total of about 1,000 brigades carrying out grid repairs.

When asked about calls for an investigation into the grid-repair contracts, Rosselló said there will be total transparency.

“There is an emergency and there will be a number of contracts. That doesn’t mean we won’t be transparent, that due diligence won’t be taken, but it will be a faster process,” he said after noting that if action is taken quickly, “we will lose billions of dollars.”

Regarding the controversy over the contract awarded to Whitefish Energy, a Texas firm alleged to have little experience in restoring electrical systems, but hired despite the American Public Power Association’s (APPA) offer to help, Prepa Executive Director Ricardo Ramos said it was signed during the period of hurricanes Irma and Maria’s arrival.

The tour lasted only 20 minutes and was limited to the exterior of the plant in Cataño.(Felipe Torres / CB)

“It was the company that could mobilize its resources to Puerto Rico quickest,” Ramos said, adding its workers were flown in and “have been working on the transmission lines since October 4. Perhaps they haven’t been very visible because transmission line reconstruction is done at inland mountain camps and their work is mostly [conducted] in the mountainous inland and with the use of helicopters,” Ramos said.

The public utility director explained that guidelines were set by USACE, when it arrived in Puerto Rico. “The Corps of Engineers has the power to call or not to call and to hire or not to hire,” he said.

However, Ramos said he communicated with APPA before and a little after Maria hit and that it did not seem ready to come to the island. “It’s a logistics issue. You have to look at the map to know that APPA was not going to be available until all these hurricanes had cleared the Atlantic, and that’s how they expressed it to me.”

Prepa Executive Director Ricardo Ramos (Felipe Torres / CB)

Regarding Whitefish Energy, Ramos said its CEO was already on the island, that the firm was making its work public, had mobilized more than 2 million tons of equipment and outsourced Florida’s Jacksonville Electric Authority. “The doubts cast upon Whitefish are unfounded in my opinion,” he added.

The official stressed that the need for powerline repair workers exceeded that of electrical experts, but that certified experts who can work on the lines should contact Prepa.

On the negotiations with Tesla, the energy storage and solar panel manufacturer, Rosselló said discussions were being held and that if any agreement were reached with the company led by Elon Musk were reached, he would make the information public.

Puerto Rico could be a challenge for Tesla tech

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