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Puerto Rico’s power utility: Goal is 25% restoration within the month

By on October 2, 2017

SAN JUAN — The Puerto Rico government seeks to restore power to at least 25% of the utility’s clients by the end of the month, said on Monday Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares.

“[Estimates] are based upon the efforts that are being created to mitigate and to power, without sacrificing the long term rebuilding of an energy grid that was weak and we need to make stronger,” said the governor during his morning briefing on the island’s recovery efforts following Hurricane María.

The grid of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) collapsed with the storm’s 150 miles per hour winds, leaving transmission lines on the ground and virtually all of the roughly 1.5 million clients of the utility without power.

With only 5% of Prepa clients having power, as of today, there is a 10% goal for this week, the government says.

“Within the week, our expectation is to have Costa Sur and Aguirre [powerplants] energized to add to the generation of power. [It is] an infrastructure that is critical for the southeast and southwest of Puerto Rico”, noted Gov. Rosselló, who added that they continue to work on restoring energy to Corco and Peerless, as well as several hospitals.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing some of the recovery efforts of the commonwealth’s battered power grid. The bulk of the work is done by Prepa personnel, although there are also private contractors performing jobs. About 300 brigades in total are working in the restoration of the grid, including a team from the New York Power Authority.

The strategy calls for focusing first on generation sites, followed by transmission and distribution lines. Out of the eight plants that supply energy to Prepa’s grid, three are already online.

Another problem is connecting generation with demand. The utility’s executive director, Ricardo Ramos, explained that the lion’s share of power generation resides on the southern side of the island, while demand mostly comes from the north. Therefore, restoring transmission lines between the two—which mostly runs across the central mountainous region of the island—presents a unique challenge.

“We are working with transmission lines that require less effort to try to interconnect the grid,” said Ramos, who noted that generation in the northern side of the island is not enough to meet the demand. He said a damage assessment had been already done for these times, while he expects to have some of them repaired and energized within the next days.

As for Gov. Rosselló, he stressed that while the goal is to restore the energy to more people in Puerto Rico, the government seeks to stay away from “rebuilding the same old grid that dosn’t work and that will suffer equal or greater damage if another storm hits.”

The governor added that Prepa prepared “as well as it could,” prior to Hurricane María, given the utility’s circumstances. The state-owned monopoly currently undergoes a bankruptcy process under Title III of the federal Promesa law and virtually halted investment on capital projects and maintenance of its infrastructure.

Earlier this year, Ramos established a “short term mitigation strategy,” according to Gov. Rosselló, whereby the most vulnerable areas of the grid were identified and reinforced.

“I think it was very successful. I know it doesn’t look that way now because our grid was devastated,” conceded the governor, who said that rebuilding and replacing the grid would have taken one to two years.

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