U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, yesterday chaired an oversight hearing to examine the status of electricity restoration for the people of Puerto Rico, the work that remains to be completed, and the future of the island’s grid. The committee also heard from leaders on the ground about proposals to reform and strengthen the island’s grid operations as another hurricane season approaches. As of May 1, 98 percent of power has been restored to Puerto Rico’s electric grid since Hurricane Maria made landfall.
“Last year when we looked at the hurricane recovery efforts, I suggested three basic tenets as we looked for ways to rebuild the electric grid – make the grid more resilient to future weather events; bring the timeframe for repairing the grid on par with the rest of the U.S. if damaged by a future storm; and bring down the overall cost of electricity compared to pre-storm prices. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that any of those tenets have been fully or adequately addressed,” said Murkowski. “Some parts of the grid infrastructure are probably more resilient today by default as they have been replaced with newer materials. As last month’s island-wide power outage demonstrated, the grid remains fragile and unstable. And as we enter a new hurricane season, the grid must be more stable and more resilient.”
Assistant Secretary Bruce Walker, the head of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, highlighted the department’s efforts with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), and other federal agencies to provide technical assistance and support during restoration and recovery to address the long-term resilience and reliability of the grid.
“No single investment in energy infrastructure at one point in time will achieve resilience. The energy infrastructure of Puerto Rico must be designed, built, managed, and maintained in such a way to withstand likely stresses, ameliorate disruptions when they inevitably occur, recover quickly, and incorporate lessons learned into post-event planning and operations. This is a continual process of improvement, one involving a reassessment and adaptation of solutions and technologies to address changing needs,” said Walker. “The end goal is a modern and resilient energy system that can serve as the robust engine for Puerto Rico’s economic revitalization.”
Walker also responded to Murkowski’s questions about opportunities to use microgrids to provide electricity.
“Our initial work on the microgrids was with PRIDCO, which is a Puerto Rico industrial development corporation…We were working with them to help facilitate providing better power quality for a number of the industrial customers, particularly those that were out of power, to ensure that the economic vitality of the island remained intact while we were going through the emergency restoration component,” said Walker. “We’re now working with PREPA to identify the last mile, isolated communities where we can do that.”
“It’s unnerving to think that hurricane season will once again be upon us, and there is a vulnerability to the people in Puerto Rico,” Murkowski concluded. “We will continue as a committee to be vigilant in following this to ensure that the resources that are necessary, that the coordination that is required, will continue. We’re not going to forget the people of Puerto Rico. We’re going to stay on this, and need all of your leadership to do just that.”Murkowski is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. In November 2017, she led a congressional delegation trip to Puerto Rico to visit impacted neighborhoods to assess the damages and ongoing recovery efforts. Later that month the committee held a hearing, which examined the hurricane recovery efforts and began the discussion about how to rebuild a stronger, more resilient, and reliable electric grid in Puerto Rico. Click here and here to view Murkowski’s questions to the witnesses.