Work continues on power restoration in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, with an emphasis on rebuilding the island's transmission and distribution system.

Puerto Rico suffered a direct hit by the hurricane on September 20. The power grid sustained major damage and most of the island since has been without power. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) has been working to repower the island, a chore made more difficult by PREPA's financial problems. With $8.9 billion in debt, PREPA has not had enough money to pay for the reconstruction, prompting it to rely on funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was assigned to help with the restoration.

PREPA awarded contracts to two companies: Whitefish Energy Holdings LLC (Whitefish, Montana), which received a $300 million contract, and Cobra Energy (a subsidiary of Mammoth Energy Services Incorporated (NASDAQ:TUSK) (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), which received a $200 million contract for four months. The Whitefish contract has since been cancelled.

Meanwhile, the USACE contracted Fluor Corporation (NYSE:FLR) (Irving, Texas) to help in the reconstruction as well. For more information, see November 3, 2017, article - Fluor's Puerto Rico Power Contract Likely to Grow as Hurricane Recovery Continues.

At the same time, Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) (Palo Alto, California), which makes solar panels and storage batteries, offered to help in the repowering of some hospitals with micro-grid systems. It is not clear if this is the direction PREPA and the government of Puerto Rico will take in trying to make their grid system more hurricane-resistant.

About 44.5% of the grid repairs have been completed, with more than 2,900 PREPA and USACE workers making repairs around the clock.

Although most of the island's power plants are functional, they are unable to transmit electricity because of the damaged grid. PREPA Chief Executive Officer Ricardo Ramos has described the work on some of the power stations that were affected by the hurricane. One such plant was the Guayama Cogeneration plant, which incurred problems in Unit 2. The plant is now operational but unable to transmit electricity due to downed distribution lines.

A second plant, the Palo Seco facility in San Juan, is idle due to repairs announced by PREPA in late August. But due to the emergency, the USACE decided to install two power generators providing 30 megawatts (MW) to stabilize the grid. The generators were provided by Weston Solutions, a West Chester, Pennsylvania-based disaster response company. Most of the island's generation plants are expecting to be fully connected to the grid by December. Another plant that is transmitting power to the grid is the Central San Juan, with units 7 and 8 adding about 180 MW to the grid.

Ramos said a second working south-north line is needed, because of problems with the line now in service. He said: "Currently we are connected under one single-circuit originating from Aguirre, then it runs to Costa Sur-Guayanilla, Costa Sur-Arecibo, Arecibo-Manati, Manati-Byamon. This is the reason why it is so important to have a second working line coming from the south in case there are problems with the [first] line." The second line is expected to be in service by November 18.

PREPA and USACE have completed work on the following lines:

  • Manati--Barceloneta, 115 kilovolts (kv)
  • Aguirre--Jobos, 115 kv
  • Aguirre--Costa Sur Sp, 230 kv, and
  • Costa Sur--Mayaguez, 230 kv
Repairs continue on the following lines:
  • Villa Betina--Juncos, 115 kv, about 40% complete
  • Guayama--Yabucoa, 230 kv, about 5% complete, and
  • Aguirres--Aguas Buenas, 230 kv
The USACE reported 64% of the substations were working, along with 57% of the installed temporary emergency generators across the island.

The Puerto Rican government said it expects to have 95% of the island powered by mid-December, although the USACE says it expects only 75% of the power to be reestablished by January.

Puerto Rico is considering construction of a hurricane-resistant system, which would involve more buried distribution lines from the south side of the island, where the generators are located. PREPA also is considering the relocation of some substations that were flooded during the hurricane. There are also plans to replace the outdated oil-fueled power plants with newer, more efficient gas-fired turbines, as well as to install micro-grids for hospitals, police stations and water plants. However, all those plans depend on financing.

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