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Photos provided to El Nuevo Dia prove the serious deterioration in Palo Seco plant.
Photos provided to El Nuevo Dia prove the serious deterioration in Palo Seco plant. (Andre Kang)

The College of Engineers and Land Surveyors of Puerto Rico (CIAPR, Spanish acronym) will report between next Sunday and Monday that may answer if any of the four units of the Palo Seco plant that operate with Bunker C fuel can be energized while repairing the deteriorated structure .

Yesterday, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) management insisted on opposing that option. The public corporation hired General Electric for $ 4.9 million to make  necessary repairs within a four to six months period.

However, according to the statements made by lawmakers of the three parties that participated yesterday morning in a hearing of the Joint Commission for the P3s, the chances that Palo Seco will be energized while being repaired are very low.

All legislators, in short, agreed that corrosion is all over the thermoelectric plant built in the 1960s. As the popular senator Eduardo Bhatia said, the life cycle of the plant is outdated.

Two hours after the commission left, several turbines that operate with diesel stopped working, causing another blackout in the metropolitan area.

At the end of a tour, part of which was attended by the executive director of the public corporation, Ricardo Ramos, legislators and engineer Pablo Vázquez, president of the CIAPR, spoke with the press. Vázquez clarified that while he was speaking, CIAPR technicians were still examining the boilers.

"We are seeing the physical condition. We have to revise those connections and we need the designs. We need accurate data of the boilers and we will work with all this information during the weekend," assured Vázquez at the end of a visit to the plant. "We will have an opinion for the Senate of Puerto Rico and we will be submitting our findings," he added.

Criticizing slowness

In August, PREPA used a report from Island Structures Engineering to conclude that the beams supporting the four boilers are corroded and pose a danger to workers. The Union Electrical Industry and Irrigation (UTIER, Spanish acronym) and some managers assure that the plant can be turned on right now.

Vázquez stressed that the document to be submitted by CIAPR will represent an "objective assessment" but recalled that the PREPA management has the last word. Although the document will be signed by Vázquez, it will not have a professional seal.

"But that of Island Structures is not certified or sealed," he argued.

The commission's co-chair, Senator Larry Seilhamer, declined to comment on the feasibility of either boiler being turned on while General Electric repairs the structure, arguing that this is CIAPR's job. Seilhamer did point against PREPA management and General Electric for not having moved "a spoon of concrete" in the plant 16 days after the contract was signed (on October 3).

"They are 16 precious days," he said. Ramos was not with the group of legislators when Seilhamer noticed the apparent slowness of the company.

Meanwhile Bhatia pointed to the amount of "structural problems" and "huge deterioration" in Palo Seco.

"It is a plant that is in a very poor shape," he insisted.

Photos provided to El Nuevo Dia prove the serious deterioration in the plant. According to the representative José "Quiquito" Meléndez, the structure of boiler 1 threatens to fall on the control room and boiler 3 is leaning towards boiler 4.

"If it is switched on, it could knock it down," he said.

Independence lawmakers Denis Márquez and Juan Dalmau agreed on the poor state of the plant, but insisted that the commission have access to "internal" PREPA reports that could refute the management position.

The Palo Seco plant also operates six gas turbines that generate 21 megawatts each. Yesterday only three worked and two hours after lawmakers left, one failed, causing the other two to also shut down.

Justo González, PREPA generation director, stated before that failure that a maintenance plan has left three out of service and that, as soon as a week and a half, one could be turned on, having four in operation.

"We are working hard," he said.