Disaster Response and Mutual Aid

Progress continues in restoring power to customers in Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands

Approximately 19.1% of normal peak load has been restored on the island of Puerto Rico, the Department of Energy reported on Oct. 18, as power restoration efforts continue to move forward in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which slammed Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in late September.  

The DOE said that as of 7:36 p.m. (EDT) on Oct. 16, peak load was approximately 514 MW, which represents about 19.1% of normal peak load restored (2,685 MW).

As of the morning of Oct. 17, DOE estimates at least 1.27 million (82.3%) of customers on the island of Puerto Rico remain without power. The DOE noted that outage numbers are an approximation based on the ratio of current load over the normal peak load.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority reported that as of 9:08 PM on Oct. 17, approximately 281 of 1,107 (25.4%) transmission lines or line segments of various voltages have been energized and approximately 124 of 339 (36.5%) substations of various voltages are energized.

Both the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are territories of the United States, and they each own and operate their own electric utilities -- the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.

Florida-based public power utility Jacksonville Electric Authority has sent linemen and assets to assist the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Puerto Rico in restoration efforts. Currently Florida-based Kissimmee Utility Authority and JEA are in Puerto Rico under contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings working on the transmission system restoration.

The New York Power Authority, also a public power utility, has sent crews to Puerto Rico to provide mutual aid, supporting damage assessments and restoration efforts.

The DOE is coordinating with PREPA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or USACE, and industry to provide technical subject matter experts and to facilitate mutual aid.

The USACE has a FEMA mission assignment to lead planning, coordination and integration efforts in preparation to execute electrical power grid repair in Puerto Rico due to impacts caused by Maria. USACE has received $577 million towards these efforts to date, it noted on Oct. 18.

USACE temporary emergency power planning and response teams are assisting with assessments and generator installations in Puerto Rico and assessments are underway at critical facilities.

The USACE team has received requests for more than 530 assessments, completed more than 400 inspections, installed 135 generators, with another 26 installations in progress. An additional 214 generators are on their way to Puerto Rico, with 69 generators on-hand, the USACE reported on Oct. 18.

Soldiers from the 249th Engineer Battalion have been operating at 24-hour operations to increase the generator installation rate.

USACE also reported that there are currently 403 crews, with three to five people each, which include PREPA, USACE and other contractors working on grid power restoration. There will be an additional 200 crews arriving within the next week.

USACE awards contracts

The USACE awarded the first of a series of major contracts toward the repair of the power grid in Puerto Rico on Oct. 8. The $35.1 million contract was awarded to Pennsylvania-based Weston Solutions to provide one 50-MW generator to be located at the Palo Seco power plant in San Juan.

APR Energy, a Weston Solutions sub-contractor, has delivered 2 GE mobile gas turbines which will provide generation to the Palo Seco power plant.

The turbines arrived in Puerto Rico on Oct. 13 and were moved to the Palo Seco Power Plant on Oct. 14. The site is currently being prepared at Palo Seco in order to start installation, the USACE reported on Oct. 18.

The USACE said the turbines will increase reliability on power generation and reduce power outages to the customers already receiving power, but this does not necessarily mean additional customers would come online. Nearby distribution lines will need to be repaired first. 

The USACE, in coordination with the Huntsville Engineering and Support Center, also recently awarded a second contract towards the repair of the power grid in Puerto Rico. This contract for $240 million was awarded to Texas-based Fluor Corporation, the USACE reported on Oct. 16.

Fluor will augment ongoing efforts to repair transmission and distribution lines. The contract includes equipment evaluation and repair, as well as the re-energization and recommissioning of substations and switching stations.

The USACE awarded a $40 million contract to PowerSecure Inc. on Oct. 18 for additional support to repair the power grid in Puerto Rico.

Personnel from PowerSecure, headquartered in Wake Forest, N.C., will start arriving in Puerto Rico Oct. 20. They will supplement efforts taking place by more than 400 crews to repair the distribution and transmission lines.

USACE places order for materials

The USACE has also placed an initial $148 million order for materials that include more than 50 thousand poles, which are a mixture of concrete, galvanized steel and wood, and 6,500 miles or 10,300 kilometers of cable that will be used for power transmission and distribution. This is in addition to insularly equipment needed to make the lines operational.

Additional materials will be ordered as the USACE, PREPA and DOE continue to assess and identify the full extent of the need in order to repair Puerto Rico’s power grid.

Meanwhile, the USACE noted that it is aware of the goals established by the Governor of Puerto Rico to restore 95% power by the middle of December 2017. “USACE continues to work hard and do everything possible to support FEMA, the government of Puerto Rico and the people of the Island,” it said.

U.S. Virgin Islands

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, as of Oct. 17, approximately 41,407 customers (85.6%) remained without power, the DOE reported.

Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp has announced that U.S. Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority is aiming for 90% of the USVI to be restored by late December.

The USACE, which has several mission assignments from FEMA in the Virgin Islands, noted that temporary emergency power assessments are underway in the Virgin Islands at critical facilities.

More than 245 assessments have been requested and more than 215 inspections have been completed; 83 generators have been installed, and another 17 installations are in progress. Also, 60 generators are on-hand, while an additional 55 generators are on their way to the Virgin Islands.

The DOE also noted that a team of 25 personnel from the Western Area Power Administration are on St. Thomas to provide mutual aid. The Northeast Public Power Association is also on the Virgin Islands and started work on Oct. 17 with 41 personnel who are working on the eastern side of St. Thomas.

SMUD, LADWP, Roseville Electric assist PG&E with restoration in wake of wildfires

In other mutual aid-related news, California public power utilities – the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, SMUD and Roseville Electric – recently sent crews to assist investor-owned Pacific Gas & Electric restore power in the wake of wildfires that have hit parts of the state.

In an Oct. 16 tweet, SMUD noted that it sent crews to help PG&E restore power in fire-ravaged wine country. “Call came Sunday and we quickly got our crews ready to go,” the public power utility said.

After more than a week of around-the-clock restoration work, PG&E on Oct. 17 reported that it restored electric power to 97 percent of customers who can receive it.

It said that more than 4,300 PG&E employees and mutual-aid partners have worked since October 9 to safely restore service to customers.