U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, yesterday chaired an oversight hearing to examine the ongoing recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Committee members also discussed the short-term, mid-term, and long-term efforts to rebuild stronger, more resilient and reliable electric grids on the islands.
“The totality of recovery work that still needs to be done in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is overwhelming,” Murkowski said. “Restoring electricity is the immediate priority. It has been out for far too long, and that is harming the health of both local residents and their economy. These conditions are awful and tragic, but they are also an opportunity to work together to rebuild the electric grids in a smarter manner—whether through microgrids, distributed generation, burying the lines where possible, direct current versus alternative current, or some other manner.”
More hurricanes will impact the islands in the years to come. Rebuilding the electric grids to withstand future storms by using smarter, more resilient technologies is critical to ensuring residents have affordable and reliable power moving forward. In response to a question from Murkowski, Julio Rhymer, Sr., executive director and CEO of the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority, highlighted the significant strides the U.S. Virgin Islands have made to harden the grid from successive disasters and to allow for greater resilience.
“Over the several years, we’ve been able to basically tap hazard mitigation funds, and that’s why we have underground systems that actually generate basically power to about 75 to 80 percent of our businesses within our commercial districts on St. Thomas and St. Croix,” Rhymer said. “That’s what we’ve been doing since each storm - that we try to learn from each lesson learned - how to underground and how to become more resilient. And that’s what we’re doing now in terms of microgrids and going toward basically composite poles, etc. to make sure that in the next storm, there’s less damage, not as much damage, or little to no damage…With each storm, and each successive storm, we learn and we get more resilient.”
The committee received testimony from U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, DOE Assistant Secretary for the Office of Electricity Delivery and Reliability Bruce Walker, Major General Donald E. Jackson, Jr. of the Army Corps of Engineers, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority Executive Director Ricardo Ramos, Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority Executive Director and CEO Julio Rhymer, Sr., and Puerto Rico Energy Commission Acting Chairman José Román Morales, PE, and Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico Executive Director Natalie Jaresko.Murkowski is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Last week, Murkowski and committee members, Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Al Franken, D-Minn., along with other members of the Senate and House, visited communities in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to assess the hurricane damage during a congressional delegation trip. Click here to view Murkowski’s round of questions with witnesses of panel one and here for questions to witnesses of panel two.