Puerto Rico Public Utility Focuses on Restoring Power
SAN JUAN – When it comes to the reconstruction of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), strategies often come on the fly, with improvisations in fits and starts to repair the mangled wreckage strewn in heaps across the island.
Such has been the case with the Gov. Ricardo Rosselló administration’s plan to create micro grids parallel to the piecemeal restoration of primary and secondary lines, a strategy that was abandoned last week because of the time it would take to reconfigure the power infrastructure already in place.
“The microgrids you have here are isolated cases, nothing integrated,” a Prepa source with knowledge of the utility’s reconstruction plans said. “We made the decision to desist from building microgrids parallel to the restoration of T&D [electrical transmission and distribution] because it would take too much time. Right now we are focusing on repairing the system that was devastated and later we can take microgrids into consideration.”
Early in the recovery process, the devastated utility was in a race against time to generate power in critical areas—a crippled hospital system left powerless and generation to water pumping stations essential to serve the population—an initiative Prepa believes it has achieved with 65 of 68 hospitals reportedly back online.
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane María, Rosselló said the government would be rebuilding Puerto Rico’s electric grid, but in a way that made it more sustainable, with underground connections and the establishment of microgrids.
In an interview with Caribbean Business, however, Prepa Executive Director Ricardo Ramos said that, at the moment, “restoring [the grid] as quickly as possible with what we have” while analyzing and conducting studies on how that system should look like in the future, which would include microgrids, is what is being done.
Whitefish Remains in Play
Much has happened in the time since Prepa’s executive director made those statements, foremost among which was the controversy over a deal of up to $300 million with Whitefish Energy, a Montana-based company that reportedly employed only two people and a limited track record.
Although the governor announced he would be cancelling the Whitefish contract, at least two sources with knowledge of the matter told Caribbean Business that the transmission and distribution company would complete the connection of primary 230-kilovolt (kV) lines devastated by sustained winds topping 150 miles per hour.
The pending work on the fledgling company’s roster includes: a rerouting of power generated from Aguirre in the South to the metropolitan area in the North; a primary line from Costa Sur in the South to Juncos and the connection of a badly damaged line traversing from South to North through Aguas Buenas.
“From the South, line 5100, from Aguirre to Aguas Buenas, will take until Nov. 25; then, once that is hooked up, we will run them parallel—so by mid-November the lines coming from South to North, which have extreme damage with 33 towers down, are going to take another three to four weeks to complete,” two sources close to the matter told Caribbean Business.
At this writing, Prepa certified that it had 1,017 megawatts (MW) online, which is the equivalent of 37.9 percent of a peak base load of 2,685 MW. Two other Prepa sources—one inside the Central San Juan power complex and the other who works in the field—estimate Puerto Rico will have 80 percent of its peak base load online by the end of November. Unofficial reports have eight of the eleven 230 kW lines connected and 30 secondary lines transmitting 115 kV.