SAN JUAN – While a great part of Puerto Rico remains in the dark after the catastrophic passage of Hurricane María, Electric Power Authority (Prepa) Executive Director Ricardo Ramos stressed Thursday that the Central Palo Seco power station between Cataño and Toa Baja will not operate “under any circumstances.”
The engineer based his decision on a report, which hasn’t been published, that alludes to the integrity of the public corporation’s infrastructure. He highlighted the utility’s “corroded beams.” Prepa put Palo Seco out of commission in August, citing “structural defects.”
“We were very fortunate nothing happened [to Palo Seco] with María, [but] the fact nothing happened with María, as an engineer, I take as: If it was weak before, now it’s weaker. The Palo Seco plant won’t be operating under any circumstance,” he declared.
Ricardo Ramos, center, expects electric service to be restored island-wide within six months. (Juan J. Rodríguez / CB)
Ramos added that negative reports about the plant’s infrastructure are not recent, because since “eight years ago” it has been affirmed that Palo Seco “is not safe, and in the past nobody took action.” Amid the power station’s potential collapse, he assured the decision stands.
“We must reinforce generation in the north until a line reaches the San Juan area. In fact, even with a line reaching the San Juan area, generation is stabilized, but there will be a moment when I won’t be able to connect more people because I need more generation,” he explained.
The utility director and Public Affairs Secretary Ramón Rosario defended the $35.1 million contract granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to Weston Solutions to assist in restoring the island’s electric grid.
The contract, the first in a series of USACE efforts to restore power service, will result in two 25-megawatt generators installed in the Palo Seco complex. When questioned about the cost of the contract, Rosario clarified that federal funds were being used.
“There is a report that says employees who work on these units put their lives on the line,” the secretary said. “The fact the physical infrastructure resisted [ Hurricane María] doesn’t mean it’s safe to put hundreds of employees’ lives at risk.”
Ramos reaffirmed his commitment to have the utility generating at 25 percent by early November. Currently, 22 days after the major hurricane, only 17 percent of the island has electric service. Ramos expects the system to be fully restored within six months.
La Plata dam operational
In the same briefing offered at the government’s command center during recovery efforts, Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority (Prasa) President Eli Díaz announced that 64 percent of the public utility’s customers have had their service restored.
“The La Plata system is once again producing water in all areas of Bayamón [and] the area of Toa Alta. We continue activating pump stations,” Díaz said. “We hope that in the next 48 hours, [service] will reach Naranjito areas.”