Disaster Response and Mutual Aid

Incident management teams deploy in Puerto Rico, PREPA welcomes help

Public power personnel from Arizona and Texas arrived in Puerto Rico over the weekend of Dec. 9 as part of a new effort by the U.S. electric power industry to accelerate the massive job of rebuilding the electric system there and restoring power to residents. They attended an orientation session on Dec. 11 to learn the scope of work that lies ahead.

Arizona’s Salt River Project and Austin Energy of Austin, Texas, have sent workers to help the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, a fellow public power utility. SRP and Austin Energy are staffing one of seven incident management teams, or IMTs, that will coordinate restoration work in seven regions served by PREPA. The other six IMTs are staffed largely by investor-owned electric companies. Another public power organization, the New York Power Authority, is on one of the IMTs.

Mike Hyland, the American Public Power Association’s senior vice president of engineering services, and Sam Rozenberg, the public power group’s engineering services security manager, arrived in Puerto Rico the weekend of Dec. 9 to help orient the IMTs. “We are all one team with one mission — helping PREPA turn the lights back on for many people who’ve been in the dark for 70 days now,” said Hyland. He commended the support of personnel from the New York Power Authority who have been on the ground for 79 out of 81 days since Maria struck. 

The seven IMTs will coordinate the work of PREPA and the federal government workers and contractors from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Each IMT is made up of seven to 10 ten workers and has been assigned to one of seven regions of the island. The public power team will be working in the Carolina region of Puerto Rico, near the capital of San Juan.

The IMT deployment has been organized by the trade groups for the three sectors of the U.S. electricity industry: the American Public Power Association (Association), Edison Electric Institute (EEI), and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) in response to PREPA’s request for assistance on October 31.

PREPA head applauds ‘great support’ from mainland

"We recognize how difficult it is to be without electricity for so long,” Justo González, PREPA’s interim executive director, said on Dec. 11 to elVocero. “Many of our employees and their families have also been without electricity since Hurricane Maria hit the island and others since Hurricane Irma," he added.

Irma sideswiped Puerto Rico in early September, and Maria followed just two weeks later – the strongest hurricane to hit the island in almost 100 years.

“We continue to make progress thanks to the support we received from FEMA and the Corps of Engineers, as well as our colleagues from the continental United States electrical industry,” said Gonzalez. “The arrival of these incident management teams is another example of the great support we are receiving in terms of personnel and equipment.”

"The arrival of these resources and equipment, which represent the best of the U.S. electrical industry, gives us a lot of confidence and certainty regarding the progress we are pursuing in a collaborative manner for Puerto Rico," said Carlos Torres, a retired engineer from Con Ed who has been appointed by Gov. Rosselló as the chief “point of contact” for all power restoration work in Puerto Rico.

Utilities sign agreements with PREPA

A number of electric utilities are entering into a memorandum of understanding with PREPA. The MOU was developed by the Association along with EEI and NRECA. It allows members of the three groups to enter into emergency agreements to provide resources and workers to PREPA on a not-for-profit basis.

Association President and CEO Sue Kelly, said, “APPA is pleased to participate in such a broad-based, collaborative industry effort and to send an IMT to the island.”

‘Entire towns are running on generators’

Bret Marchese of the Salt River Project is the incident commander for the IMT designated to coordinate ongoing restoration in the Carolina region. This IMT is made up of 10 staff members from SRP and Austin Energy. Their mission is “to work with PREPA as one team,” said Marchese.

After the team landed in San Juan on Dec. 9, Marchese drove along the main highway in Carolina and saw that there is still significant damage.

“Poles are down and not touched yet. Entire towns are running on generators,” he said.

Marchese recalled leading a team of 16 SRP employees to help restore power in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 on the East Coast of the U.S. Conditions after Sandy were extreme, but they do not compare to the magnitude of the devastation that Hurricane Maria has caused in Puerto Rico, he said.

Marchese said the team knows that challenges await, especially in terms of getting required materials to the region, but the IMT members are in positive spirits and happy to be there. He added that they volunteered to work through the holidays because they are eager to help get life back to normal for the people of Puerto Rico.

The first team will be on the island until Jan. 8 and will be replaced by a second team, which will work for another 30 days.

Kelly: A ‘complex and difficult’ mission

“We all know that this restoration mission is complex and difficult, and we will continue to work together with PREPA and our federal partners to overcome these challenges,” Kelly added.

The Association’s Rozenberg witnessed a crew energize a line in San Juan over the weekend. “It was very heartwarming to watch the reaction of the residents as soon as the power was restored, complete with clapping and I believe that I saw some tears as well,” he reported.

There are now more than 3,000 workers on the island who are dedicated to the power restoration mission. This includes PREPA’s own workers and crews mobilized under U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contracts.

DOE reports on restoration

The Department of Energy, in its most recent situation report on the work in Puerto Rico to recover from Hurricane Maria, said that as of the morning of Dec. 6, PREPA reported that restored load was 68.4% of normal peak load, which generally runs at between 2,500 megawatts and 3,000 MW.

“Due to technical limitations, PREPA is not able to provide the number or percentage of customers without power,” DOE noted in its Dec. 6 report. “As such, the current metric for restoration progress is the percent of normal peak load that has been restored. The percent of normal peak load restored is not a direct proxy for the number of customers restored. DOE will begin reporting customer level data as soon as the information is available.”

DOE is currently issuing weekly situation reports on the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Those reports are issued at noon EST on Wednesdays, with the next report due on Dec. 13.

Governors’ working group recommends $17.6 billion rebuild

In a parallel effort to help the island recover from the overwhelming damage to its electric system after Hurricane Maria hit in September, a working group established by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo released recommendations this week that call for the island's new electric power system to be designed with enough resiliency to withstand future storms and to incorporate modern grid technologies and control systems such as microgrids. The island's energy infrastructure needs to be upgraded to withstand winds of 155 miles per hour, the report noted.

The plan, released on Dec. 11 by New York Gov. Cuomo and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, is the work of the Puerto Rico Energy Resiliency Working Group, chaired by Gil Quiniones, president and CEO of the New York Power Authority.

NYPA was one of the first utilities to send help to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit on Sept. 20. The power authority sent a team of energy experts shortly after the Category 4 hurricane ravaged the island, and workers from the public power utility continue to help PREPA restore its heavily damaged electric system.

"The magnitude of devastation to the Puerto Rico electric power system presents an unprecedented opportunity to rebuild and transform the system to one that is hardened, smarter, more efficient, cleaner, and less dependent on fossil fuel imports," said the Dec. 11 report, Build Back Better: Reimagining and Strengthening the Power Grid of Puerto Rico. The report calls for $17.6 billion to be spent over the next decade to rebuild and reinforce Puerto Rico’s electric system.

The working group included representatives of NYPA, PREPA, the Puerto Rico Energy Commission, Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Edison International, the Electric Power Research Institute, the Long Island Power Authority, the Smart Electric Power Alliance, the Department of Energy, Brookhaven National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Grid Modernization Lab Consortium, the Pacific Northwest National Lab, and PSEG Long Island, doing business as LIPA.