Public Works Sub-Director Ramon Mendez, left, works with locals municipal workers to install a new electrical post in Coamo, Puerto Rico, on 31 January 2018. Photo: Carlos Giusti / AP

By Danica Coto
18 February 2018

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Associated Press) – Puerto Rico’s power company said Sunday that it will reduce its operating reserve to save money amid a cash shortfall as officials warned that the move could destabilize the U.S. territory’s fragile electrical grid.

William Rios, director of generation at Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority, said a plan to reduce its reserve by 450 megawatts will not affect customers and will help save $9 million a month.

Public Affairs Secretary Ramon Rosario said that although the measure is needed, it could affect a grid still experiencing frequent blackouts as nearly 250,000 customers remain without power more than five months after Hurricane Maria. The Category 4 storm destroyed two-thirds of the power distribution system and caused the longest blackout in U.S. history.

The measure to reduce the operating reserve comes just days after a federal judge rejected a $1 billion loan request for Puerto Rico’s power company, saying there was insufficient evidence to prove the power company needs the money. Government officials and a federal control overseeing Puerto Rico’s finances lowered their request to $300 million on Friday, per the judge’s instruction, but warned that the funds would allow the company to operate only until late March.

“The power company’s fiscal situation is real and we have to deal with it now,” Rosario said.

Both he and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló have called on the Treasury Department to release a billion-dollar loan that Congress approved in October for disaster recovery, saying it would help ease the power company’s financial situation.

Last month, Rosselló announced plans to privatize the company, which is $9 billion in debt and operating with infrastructure nearly three times older than the industry average. The U.S. territory experienced frequent blackouts even before the hurricane, including an island-wide outage in September 2016.

Puerto Rico to slash energy reserves amid cash shortfall

By Nicole Acevedo
19 February 2018

(NBC News) – About a third of Puerto Rico's residents — over 900,000 — are still living without electricity five months after Hurricane Maria battered the island on 20 September 2018.

As power restoration efforts continue against all odds, it's still hard for officials to say when the power will be fully restored — the question on everyone's mind.

“I would hesitate to give you a date,” said Lt. Col. John Cunningham of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the deputy commander for the Task Force Power Restoration on the island. “We would like to go faster, but right now we’re going as fast as we can.”

“The largest challenge has been logistics: getting the materials we need,” Cunningham told NBC News. “Because it is a tropical island, they need specific conductors and materials that can resist the tropical weather and there’s a limited number of suppliers available to purchase specific materials for the island.”

After Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, getting access to those materials is even harder.

About 1,200 temporary generators and seven microgrids are powering key areas near important buildings such as schools and hospitals. In addition, teams from utility companies from the mainland U.S. have made their way to Puerto Rico to support personnel sent to the island to help restore power.

After Hurricane Maria left the entire island without power, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, needed at least about 53,000 poles, a little over 17 million conductors and 184,750 insulators.

So far, 5,072 transformers have arrived in Puerto Rico in addition to about 31,500 poles and about 2,613 miles of conductor cables already on the island, PREPA said in a statement.

In the next two weeks, Puerto Rico should receive 80 containers with additional equipment.

One of the reasons for a lack of inventory in the first place is PREPA's financial woes. While a Category 5 hurricane like Maria was expected to cause massive damage, Puerto Rico's bankrupt and greatly indebted public utility had not kept up with upgrading and modernizing its four-decade-old power plants, which mostly produce energy from burning imported oil.

Puerto Rican government leaders went to federal court in New York on Thursday to request a $1 billion emergency loan to finance operational costs and avoid running out of cash. Though the request was not approved, U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain gave Puerto Rico’s lawyers the chance to submit another motion for a $300 million emergency loan, understanding that “the lights cannot go off in Puerto Rico.” The motion was filed early Friday and Judge Swain approved it on Monday. [more]

Why does restoring full power in Puerto Rico seem like a never-ending task?



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