Puerto Rico’s Power Restoration Slowed by Miles of Downed Lines

Source: WSJ by Arian Campo-Flores

Only 11% of customers have electricity more than two weeks after Hurricane Maria

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—One recent morning, a Black Hawk helicopter flew specialists from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Energy Department over an area of eastern Puerto Rico to survey the damage Hurricane Maria delivered to the island’s power grid.

In a hilly area near Juncos, where the storm shredded trees and left the landscape barren and brown, they spotted a metal lattice transmission tower that had crashed to the ground and lay in pieces. Farther along ridges lay another downed tower, then another—at least a half-dozen in a row—leaving power lines strewn and tangled amid debris.

“It looks like dental floss laying across the trees,” Sgt. First Class Gregory Ganser of the New York Army National Guard, which operated the flight, said over the radio.

The wreckage offered a glimpse of the monumental task Puerto Rico faces in rebuilding a power grid destroyed by back-to-back hurricanes that knocked out electricity to the entire island. More than two weeks after Maria, only about 11% of customers have had electricity restored. Compounding the challenge are the antiquated conditions of the grid and the financial straits of the government-owned utility that runs it—the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or Prepa, declared a form of bankruptcy in July.

More than 85% of the grid was destroyed, and total damage from Maria is estimated at more than $5 billion, said Prepa Chief Executive Ricardo Ramos. President Donald Trump’s administration has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to help guide the effort to rebuild the electricity grid. A task force that includes the agency as well as the Energy Department and the Puerto Rican government is working to assess damage and develop a plan.

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