US Department of Energy to announce energy plan for Puerto Rico...

US Department of Energy to announce energy plan for Puerto Rico in 60 days

The US Department of Energy announces that they are working on the blueprint for theElectric Power Authority

Washington – Within 60 days, the US Department of Energy plans to have the plan to rebuild and modernize the power grid, largely collapsed as a result of Hurricane Maria.

Although the Build Back Better plan of the government of Puerto Rico estimates that the cost of modernizing the Electric Power Authority (PREPA) system will reach $ 17,6 billion, the DOE blueprint will define the funds that will be required to invest.

The DOE is designing the plan in consultation with PREPA.

“It is going to be an electricity model. It will be possible to prove how the system would impact the entire network … before making a high investment”, said yesterday Bruce Walker, Assistant Secretary of the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability of the DOE, to questions from El Nuevo Día, after declaring before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

According to “Build Back Better” plan, the estimate to have a modern power grid resistant to winds of up to 155 miles per hour -refering to a category 4 hurricane- will require $17,6 billion.

In total, Rosselló´s government plan estimates that $ 94.4 billion will be needed to rebuild the island.

Secretary Walker argued that preliminarily, as the plan “Build Back Better” does for the electrical energy area, “you can put the numbers you want”, but an electricity model , with generation capacities and specific distribution systems, possible microgrids, underground lines, renewable energy projects, among other things, is required in order to have a concrete estimate.

“The plan will tell us where the opportunities for renewable energy are”, Walker added.

The model developed by the laboratories of the Department of Energy will impact the recovery plan that the Bipartisan Budget and continuing appropriations Act, approved on February 9, requires the government of Puerto Rico to submit – in consultation with Federal Agencies and the approval of the Board, in charge of public finances -, during summer, possibly before the end of July.

Once the federal government planned to invest about $ 32 billion in the reconstruction of Puerto Rico, the recovery plan will define how the response of federal agencies will continue, beyond the power grid.

Among the $ 18,5 billion separated for the island by the federal Department of Housing -through the CDBG funds of last February bipartisan law -, there are $ 2 billion to finance improvements to the power systems of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

But, that allocation is expected to be just the beginning. Last February’s statute also authorized an amendment to the Stafford Act to allow FEMA to fund permanent improvements to the power grid.

“Probably, once it is ready (the model) it would be the most sophisticated system in the US, which is great in termsof the process and decision-making ahead,” including how much to invest in the network, said Secretary Walker.

Meanwhile, Eugene Shlatz, director of Navigant Consulting, – in charge of the preliminary evaluation of the plan of improvements to the power grid, as part of “Build Back Better” -, said that the magnitude of the devastation “offers the opportunity to rebuild and transform the system into a stronger, smarter, more efficient, cleaner and less dependent on fossil fuels”.

The hearing of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held yesterday had the objective of receiving “an update on grid restoration efforts in storm ravaged Puerto Rico” almost seven months after Hurricane Maria.

The Coordinator is leaving

In his first appearance before a congressional committee related to Hurricane María, Carlos Torres, Power Restoration Coordinator appointed by Governor Rosselló, announced that his work is nearing completion. In his written statement, Torres said he has informed Governor Rosselló that he will leave his position in the “next few weeks,” since the long-term responsibility for the power grid is up to PREPA.

“The damage caused by Hurricane Maria is something that nobody in the industry had seen in the mainland US. This power restoration mission has been the most challenging of my career. Hurricane Maria caused historic damage to Puerto Rico in infrastructure, creating considerable logistical challenges that complicated how workers, equipment and materials were mobilized”, said Torres, who, contrary to other speakers, was unavailable to answer questions from journalists.

For Charles Alexander, Director, Contingency Operations and Homeland Security Headquarters, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the priority is still that all the customers in Puerto Rico have power supply by May 18, eight months after María.

When asked by Republican Morgan Griffith (Virginia), Torres avoided giving a specific date for the full restoration of the electricity service, which yesterday reached around 96 percent, according to PREPA. “It’s going to take time”, replied Torres, who was accompanied by a communications advisor from the Edison Electric Institute, not by any official of the government of Puerto Rico.

Torres, appointed last November by Governor Rosselló, is a retired engineer from Consolidated Edison, a New York-based electricity company.

Although the Corps of Engineers extended the Power Secure company contract – granting another $ 140 million, bringing the total to $ 510.6 million – until May 18, any work pending will be in the hands of PREPA and its contractors.

From now until mid-May, the urgent task is to restore service to about 50,000 customers, a number that mayors have questioned.

Torres, the representative of the Corps of Engineers and Jeffrey Byard, Associate Administrator, of FEMA Office of Response and Recovery believe that PREPA will be better prepared, in terms of materials and equipment, for an upcoming hurricane. They also agreed that the repairs that have been made over the past months have allowed improvements, such as the base of posts and transmission lines.

Republican Congressman Gregg Harper (Mississippi) recalled that originally the government of Puerto Rico chose not to ask for help from the American Public Power Association (APPA), which may have helped in time and money to the service restoring process.

Harper – who allowed the presence of Resident Commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer González – considered that the restoration of the electricity service has been complicated due to “bureaucratic issues, geographic isolation of the rescue teams and workers, the difficulties of mountainous areas, supply issues, and the limitations of the existing power grid”, old and without proper maintenance.

“It seems that what has been done so far is to put band-aids”, said Democratic spokeswoman Diane Degette (Colorado), who suggested holding a hearing in Puerto Rico.

Frank Pallone (New Jersey), Democratic spokesman in the Energy and Commerce Committee, said that in order to strengthen Puerto Rico’s power grid, all alternatives should be considered, “from direct privatization”, as Governor Rosselló has proposed, “up to the creation of a new federal administration for marketing  energy and intermediate proposals”.