PREPA contractor: Progress slow, materials limited in power restoration
- Whitefish Energy, the contractor hired by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Association, has more than 200 workers on the island and has begun work on power restoration, the company said in written updates posted on Twitter
- Contractors are beginning repairs on some transmission and distribution infrastructure and assessing damage to lines in remote areas. Materials in Palo Seco, the site of a main PREPA power plant, are "very limited," the company said, communications in the field are spotty, and crews found "multiple spots where bundled wire is in trees and entangled with branches."
- Whitefish, a small Montana-based contractor, was hired by PREPA shortly after Hurricane Maria, before mutual aid programs could be coordinated. The company said more heavy-duty materials, including bucket and digger trucks, arrived in Puerto Rico on Sunday.
Less than 15% of Puerto Rico has electricity as of Monday morning, and Whitefish's weekend progress updates paint the picture of a slow restoration process to come.
Contractors are beginning to repair T&D infrastructure, using helicopters to fly out concrete towers and repairing lines at the Montacillos generation facility, the site of another outage last week.
But rain and poor communications have slowed some work, according to the contractor, and some employees reported that PREPA's neglected grid has presented challenges. Crews dealt with "all day issues with material," including a crane breakdown and a material yard with T&D components that was "all rusted," according to the Sunday update.
On Saturday, crews reported "extremely thick" vegetation while inspecting downed lines, as well as multiple places where lines had tangled with tree branches. "Roads are very narrow," the update read, and the crews "found very large termite nest in the path while clearing."
Heavy materials continue to arrive in Puerto Rico, Whitefish reported, including light towers, a bucket truck, bulldozer and an Elliot freightliner crane that made it to the island on Sunday.
Updates from PREPA itself have been few and far between, with the utility not responding to requests for comment on restoration work last week. Whitefish has communicated predominantly through Twitter, posting the written updates as well as photos and videos of grid restoration:
PREPA selected Whitefish to guide restoration on the island quickly after Hurricane Maria hit the island in late September. By the time the American Public Power Association got on the phone with PREPA officials to coordinate mutual aid, officials said they already had an agreement in place with the Montana-based contractor.
"Once they had called in they briefed out that they had signed an agreement with Whitefish," said Michael Hyland, APPA vice president for engineering, who coordinated muni response efforts. "PREPA at that point told us everything was taken care of."
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