Disaster Response
Press Release

Update on help for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands

The American Public Power Association continues to coordinate closely with our federal government partners and public power utilities across the country to help Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands restore electric service.

“It is going to be a long and arduous process and patience is the key word,” said Mike Hyland, senior vice president, engineering services, at the American Public Power Association.

Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico has requested that the federal government approve a cost share adjustment from 75 to 100 percent for federal public assistance for debris removal and emergency protective measures (including repairs to power lines) from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a limited period of time. Thereafter, the governor has requested a 90 percent federal cost share. This request is being considered by the federal government.

From preliminary FEMA reports, it is estimated that 55 percent of transmission towers in Puerto Rico may be down. More than 90 percent of the distribution system could potentially be destroyed.

The New York Power Authority, which sent a crew of 12 people, and two drones, to Puerto Rico on Fri, Sept. 22, is working with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority on a program to assess the damage.

A crew from the federal Western Area Power Administration has now reached the U.S. Virgin Islands and is assisting in mutual aid efforts.  

FEMA is coordinating all rescue and recovery operations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. FEMA is prioritizing life saving and sustaining efforts. It is providing generators and fuel for temporary power restoration at critical facilities like hospitals.

According to a FEMA intergovernmental advisory, “There are more than 10,000 federal staff on the ground in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands supporting response and recovery operations from Hurricanes Maria and Irma.”

FEMA further reports that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has 84 generators on hand in Puerto Rico and 27 generators in St. Thomas, with more than 50 additional generators on the way.

Before calling on public power utilities to send crews and equipment, the Association is waiting for a complete damage assessment and assistance with necessary arrangements from the federal government. “There are many logistics to coordinate,” says Hyland. “We need to know where the crews will be housed and if we can ensure their safety and health so they can be effective.” Hyland also points out that FEMA must be allowed to focus on life and safety first.

Long-term power restoration will involve rebuilding generation, transmission, and distribution. Transmission towers may need to be airlifted, rebuilt, and shipped back in. The logistics are challenging, so proper planning, sequencing and coordination are critical, emphasizes Hyland.