Puerto Rico grid reconstruction to follow USDA Rural Utilities Service standards
SAN JUAN – Walter Higgins, the recently appointed chief executive officer of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), announced Monday and reiterated in hearing held by the U.S. Senate Energy Committee on Tuesday that the public corporation will adopt a national standard for the design and reconstruction of the electric grid on the island.
In the announcing press release, Higgins explained that Prepa’s “intent is to adopt the nationally recognized standards issued by the Rural Utilities Service a division of the US Department of Agriculture.”
The island’s electric grid “can be modernized, made more efficient, more reliable, more resistant to heavy storms and have a lower cost of operation and maintenance and be easier to restore,” Prepa’s release reads.
“A standardized grid using modern technology will also make it possible for PREPA and its customers to work cooperatively to maximize the use of emerging distributed energy technologies and to adopt smart grid technology. PREPA will be able to share workers with other utilities from the mainland allowing a faster restoration after disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes,” Higgins added.
The CEO said the utility, which is sought to be privatized, “has a unique opportunity to make this transition now because of the need to permanently rebuild Puerto Rico’s grid following the completion of emergency restoration measures taken in the aftermath of hurricane’s Irma and María.”
Full restoration of service for the utility’s customers has yet to be achieved as nearly 30,000 customers remain without power since September.
“Based on the most recent available information, the current status of line restoration is as follows: Over 98.25% of all customers now have power available to their premises. Overall progress on transmission line restoration is 80%, calculated as completed line segments divided by total line segments. Specifically, 15 of the 17 230 kV [kilovolt] lines are restored, and 67 of 86 of the 115 kV lines are restored. 74% of the towers, poles, conductors, and insulators have been repaired. To date, over 52,000 power poles, 10,000 transformers, and 29 million feet of new power cables have been delivered to the Island, representing approximately 95% of the supplies required for the line restoration effort,” Higgins’ submitted testimony reads.
“While electric service has been restored to nearly everyone in Puerto Rico, emergency measures must be upgraded and/or replaced to permanent standards,” Higgins said.
Voltage standards differ in Puerto Rico, preventing grid workers such as those from stateside utilities and contractors to be able to bring usable components, hindering emergency restoration efforts.
In the Senate hearing, Bruce Walker, the assistant secretary of the U.S. Energy Department’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, said the move to implement national best practices when reconstructing infrastructure involve not only adopting voltage standards but other components as well such as electric pole sizes.
The Rural Utilities Service (RUS) administers programs that provide infrastructure to rural communities via Electric Distribution Loans that may be used to fund renewable energy development and conservation; finance electric systems; and integrate electric smart grid technologies.