Disaster Response and Mutual Aid

Puerto Rico needs 50,000 utility poles, 6,500 miles of cable

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Oct. 10 that it has placed “an initial order” of $115 million for materials, including more than 50,000 utility poles and 6,500 miles of cable, that are needed to rebuild the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s electric grid.

Crews from JEA, the public power utility in Jacksonville, Florida, have landed in Puerto Rico and are starting restoration work. Personnel from the New York Power Authority also are in Puerto Rico and are working with PREPA to assess the condition and needed repairs for generation and transmission substations. NYPA crews have completed assessment work on approximately 120 substations on the island.

About 16 percent of electricity customers in Puerto Rico have had their power restored, according to a Department of Energy update on hurricane damage. DOE said that it is coordinating closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Puerto Rican officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

The Caribbean island is home to more than 3.4 million U.S. citizens. Puerto Ricans have been struggling with little or no power and shortages of drinking water and food since Hurricane Maria made a direct hit on the island as a Category 4 hurricane the morning of Sept. 20.

Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has said that it could take up to six months to restore power to all of Puerto Rico.

The U.S. Virgin Islands were hit even harder. They were blasted first by Hurricane Irma, which hit these islands as a Category 5 storm, and then two weeks later by Maria, also a Category 5 when it struck the Virgin Islands.

Virgin Islands

DOE estimated that as of Oct. 6, approximately 14 percent of customers on the island of St. Thomas and 12 percent of customers on the island of St. Croix had their electricity service back. There continues to be no grid power on the island of St. John, the department said.

“Critical facilities, including the airports and hospitals, have been restored on both St. Thomas and St. Croix and restoration efforts continue across the territory, with the support of mutual aid crews,” DOE said.

A team from the Western Area Power Administration remains in St. Thomas to help the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority rebuild the local grid.

Contractors BBC and Haugland are bringing crews to the Virgin Islands: 35 workers from BBC and 150 from Haugland. Most equipment and crews are heading to the USVI by Oct. 15.

Crews from New England, organized by the New England Public Power Association, also are on the way to the Virgin Islands.

Communications reportedly are still a significant issue that must be contended with by those seeking to help rebuild the islands’ electric systems.

USACE leads efforts, awards contract for generator

The USACE said Oct. 10 that it “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 Hurricane Maria.” The agency said it has received $577 million towards these efforts to date.

USACE said it 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 has been awarded to Weston Solutions, based in West Chester, Pennsylvania, to provide one 50-megawatt generator.

Installation of the generator “will begin immediately upon arrival at the Palo Seco power plant in San Juan,” said the Army Corps of Engineers. The generator is due to arrive on the island by Oct. 15 and is expected to be running by Oct. 25.

The process for repairing the grid in Puerto Rico “includes four main lines of effort,” said USACE: 1) provide temporary emergency power and spot generation for critical facilities like hospitals and shelters; 2) ensure adequate generation at the power plants; 3) re-install and repair transmission lines; and 4) restore and repair distribution lines.

The current load on the PREPA grid is now 335 MW, or 13.28 percent of the average pre-storm load, said the Army Corps of Engineers in its Oct. 10 update. Over the previous 24 hours, three transmission and four sub-transmission lines were energized, as well as a number of substations, USACE said on Tuesday.

President authorized up to 100% federal funding

In late September, President Donald J. Trump made additional disaster assistance available to Puerto Rico by authorizing an increase in the level of federal funding for debris removal and emergency protective measures — including emergency power restoration — for the U.S. territory.
The president increased the federal government’s share of costs to 100 percent federal funding for debris removal and emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, for 180 days.

DOE’s Oct. 10 update noted that industry mutual aid assistance networks were activated to support power restoration work after Hurricane Nate, which caused power outages in Alabama and Mississippi. Less than 1 percent of customers in those states were affected, DOE said.

“Industry restoration of power outages caused by Hurricane Nate have progressed quickly and overall there were minimal impacts to the energy sector,” DOE said.