Building and Construction

PREPA Taps Whitefish Energy for Puerto Rico Grid Rebuild

06 October 2017

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) has tapped Whitefish Energy to help with electric power restoration efforts.

Much of the island's transmission and distribution network was destroyed by Hurricane Maria in September. The American Public Power Association (APPA), which released the news October 6, says that Montana-based Whitefish has previously worked on the island and is familiar with PREPA’s facilities. APPA says that Whitefish has begun the process of marshaling trucks, equipment and crews for the restoration effort.

Brazil-based Comtrafo S.A. holds a minority stake in the company. An earlier version of this story labeled Whitefish as a unit of Comtrafo.

Grid experts inspect damage after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.Grid experts inspect damage after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has given the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the mission to lead the immediate power restoration effort. The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Emergency Support Function (ESF-12) is also involved in restoration efforts as the electricity sector’s “sector specific agency."

Initially, the New York Power Authority (NYPA) sent utility technical subject matter experts and drones as part of a state-led mission. NYPA’s personnel have been working with PREPA on damage assessments of specific PREPA generation, transmission and substation facilities.

(Read "Logistics Complicate Puerto Rico's Electric Grid Recovery.")

FEMA, the Corps of Engineers and DOE also have personnel on the ground. In addition, Jacksonville, Florida-based utility JEA is sending crews under arrangements made directly with Whitefish -- 41 workers are flying to Puerto Rico. Trucks and other equipment are being sent by ship. (Read "El Faro Sinking Is Marked as Shipper Aids Puerto Rico Response.")

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, which also sustained damage during Hurricane Maria, federal government crews from the DOE’s Western Area Power Administration are helping with the restoration effort.

The local utility, USVI Water and Power Authority, is an APPA member. The Virgin Islands power authority has requested mutual aid from APPA, which responded by working with its mutual aid network to obtain over 40 personnel and associated equipment. They will commence deployment starting October 7.

In mid-September, the Western Area Power Administration deployed an advance team to the U.S. Virgin Islands to support restoration efforts after Hurricane Irma.

DOE emergency responders have been working on power restoration efforts with the Federal Emergency Management Agency Incident Management Assistance Team in Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix since early September.

APPA says that a public power utility requesting help typically pays other utilities that send help. Rates are determined through agreements that are put in place well in advance of a disaster. As units of state and local government, public power utilities are generally eligible for partial reimbursement of restoration expenses by FEMA, if all the relevant conditions and requirements are met.

In the case of Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands, the federal government has declared certain categories of expenses (debris removal and emergency service restoration) 100% reimbursable from FEMA if incurred within 180 days from the declaration of a major disaster.

To contact the author of this article, email david.wagman@ieeeglobalspec.com


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