Puerto Rico power utility says 47 towns have partial service
SAN JUAN – The executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), Ricardo Ramos, said Thursday that the public utility has been able to restore service, albeit partially, to at least 47 of the island’s 78 municipalities despite the difficulties it faced in the process and generating only37.9% of its capacity 43 days after Hurricane María knocked the power grid out.
Most of the 31 municipalities without power are in the center and eastern parts of the island, the areas that sustained the greatest impact of the hurricane’s Category 4 winds. Among them are Las Marías, Maricao, Adjuntas, Jayuya, Ciales, Morovis, Orocovis, Villalba, Naranjito, Barranquitas, Comerío and Aguas Buenas, some of which also lack water service.
Even towns with a large presence of manufacturing and pharmaceuticals companies such Florida and Barceloneta are also devoid of power. In the South and East, Salinas, Guayama, Arroyo, Patillas, San Lorenzo, Maunabo, Yabucoa, Humacao, Las Piedras, Juncos, Gurabo, Naguabo, Río Grande, Luquillo and Loíza remain completely dark.
Although he acknowledged flaws in the system—such as the two reported Wednesday of the powerlines from Manatí to Bayamón and the Costa Sur plant in Guayanilla to the Cambalache plant in Arecibo— Ramos was positive that 95% of the grid will be restored by mid-December, as promised by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.
“That [power] line from Costa Sur to Cambalache and from Cambalache to Manatí is already restored,” which could result in energy for the metropolitan area, the secretary of Public Affairs and Public Policy, Ramón Rosario, said in a press conference alongside Prepa’s director and José Sánchez, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) contingency director.
In a worst case scenario, Prepa’s director said, power service could be temporarily switched from customers who have it to those who do not. “But the expectation is not to get to that,” he added.
Old San Juan gets promise
Power is expected to be restored shortly in Old San Juan. Prepa sent repair crews to the historic colonial section of the capital after business owners and residents warned in protest that scores of stores and jobs are at risk, as well as the renowned tourist destination itself.
Ramos explained that the lack of generation and the faults in the lines that lead to the capital affected service to the area, but hopes that, “once [the lines are] restored, power will start to reach Old San Juan between [Thursday] afternoon and [Friday].” He added that the work in the old city is difficult, because “the power line goes through the roof of the houses and depends a lot on the access they can give us”.
USACE withholds contract rates
In collaboration with Prepa, is USACE, which contracted two companies to support the grid-repair work.
Although it is known USACE contracted PowerSecure for $40 million and Fluor Corp. for $240 million, but could increase it to $840 million, Sánchez declined to provide the rates paid to the contractors’ employees, saying the companies claim that is “proprietary information.”
Sánchez merely mentioned that Fluor said it was bringing its own materials for the work. The contractor is expected to bring 67 crews this week and another 67 by Nov. 10, while PowerSecure promised to start with 50 brigades and reach 100 by Nov. 8.
The information was not provided by USACE even at the request of the governor. “The governor is anyway continuing to insist and will require–obviously, the chain of command of the Corps of Engineers is followed–that it be made public how much those brigades hired by the Corps of Engineers are costing to be able to compare them with the contracting done by the executive director of Prepa,” Rosario said.
The inquiry comes about while Prepa is in the process of canceling its contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings, one of the companies the government hired to repair the grid.
The contract, of up to $300 million, was canceled amid a scandal over the small size of the company, its links to the Republican Party and inconsistencies in the way it was granted. On Tuesday, Prepa invoked the contract’s cancellation clause, thus Nov. 30 will the contractor’s last workday on the island.
Although the company has received $10.9 million and invoiced another $9.8 million, it is not yet known how much it will receive for the cancellation. It is only known that Whitefish has been requested to repair and hand over the powerline from the Aguirre plant in Salinas to San Juan “in mid-November.”
Prepa also hired 60 local contractors and Cobra Acquisitions, with an up to $200 million contract. Cobra received $15 million as an initial outlay to move to the island, and it is expected that 120 of its crews arrive Friday. Another 126 brigades would arrive on or before Nov. 10, the government announced in a presentation. The combined number of Prepa, USACE and contracted compan crews is expected to reach 1,341.
Prepa revealed the rates paid to Cobra and Whitefish line workers, which vary depending on specialty between $4,000 and $6,700 a day, which was widely criticized because the average salary for a Prepa worker is $474 a day.