NYPA wants U.S. government to modernize Puerto Rico power grid

(Reuters) - The New York Power Authority (NYPA) wants the U.S. government to harden and modernize Puerto Rico’s electric grid after restoring service to the island’s 3.4 million residents left in the dark by Hurricane Maria, NYPA’s chief executive said at the Reuters Global Commodities Summit on Tuesday.

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“We’re hoping the federal government will step up. It’s a good investment to harden and modernize the grid in Puerto Rico so that we don’t redo this again when the next storm comes,” NYPA President and CEO Gil Quiniones said at the Summit, held at the Reuters office in New York.

NYPA, the largest U.S. state-owned power company, was one of the first to send crews to help restore service in Puerto Rico after Maria struck the island as a dangerous Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 20, knocking out all electricity on the island.

Since then, the territory’s power company, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the lead agency overseeing the rebuilding of the grid, have restored power to about 15 percent of the island’s 1.5 million customers.

Power restoration has been slow in part because people and equipment needed to rebuild the grid must be sent by ship or aircraft and PREPA’s grid was already degraded by years of underinvestment before the storm hit, according to the utility’s own reports. PREPA declared bankruptcy in July.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello has said the goal is to restore power to about 25 percent of customers by the end of October.

Quiniones said he planned to travel to Puerto Rico on Saturday to check in with the 15 NYPA workers still on the island and coordinate with the leadership of PREPA and the Army Corps.

Quiniones said he was open to sending more people to Puerto Rico if needed, but the Army Corps was already pulling in contractors and utility crews from the U.S. mainland to rebuild PREPA’s transmission and distribution systems.

“Our workers are assessing their substations - PREPA has about 333 substations - we’re close to half way through and our goal is to finish the substation assessments around Oct. 18,” Quiniones said.

In New York, Quiniones said NYPA was evaluating over 100 renewable projects to the company’s request for proposals to meet a state mandate to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

He said NYPA expected to make decisions on the renewable projects in the first or second quarter of 2018.

Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by David Gregorio