July 10, 2018 / 10:02 PM / 11 days ago

U.S. Army Corps to remove generators from Puerto Rico in storm season

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to begin removing mega-generators providing backup power at Puerto Rico’s power plants as soon as next week, as the plants are deemed stable, leaving the island vulnerable to power disruptions during hurricane season.

Puerto Rico has struggled to recover from Hurricane Maria, which devastated its power grid in September of last year.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, under direction from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, had contractors install three large generators in November to lend support to the island’s primary power plants. In May, FEMA agreed to leave the mega-generators in place until the island’s utility could buy them, responding to pleas from Puerto Rico’s governor.

Together, the generators produce enough power to energize about 90,000 U.S. homes.

However, at least one of those generators is expected to be removed as soon as next week, and the other two will be removed next month, according to the bankrupt Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). PREPA has not agreed to buy the generators.

PREPA is still evaluating what it will do next, Jose Blanco, PREPA spokesman, said in an email.

FEMA did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters.

Hurricane season began on June 1, and remnants of an early tropical storm, Beryl, approached the island last weekend.

The U.S. Army Corps said in an email that the Yabucoa power plant in the southern part of the island has “stable power transmission,” which will allow the generator’s removal beginning on July 18. The Army Corps said the two other generators will remain “until PREPA determines there is sufficient power generation and/or transmission.” PREPA said the contract ends next month.

The generators can serve as backup if storms damage the main plants, or if other power systems fail. The two Palo Seco generators located in the north help stabilize the grid, and could power water pumps in San Juan. The generator at Yabucoa can act as backup if high-tension power lines that cross the island fail.

During Hurricane Maria, the power plants largely escaped major damage. Transmission, however, was interrupted as lines came down, knocking out power to all 3 million-plus residents of the island.

While most residents have had their power restored, it has been interrupted at times by blackouts, including one caused by a bulldozer hitting a transmission line.

Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis

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