The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) announced yesterday the end of the selective power outages -caused by generation deficit- that have been tormented hundreds of thousands of customers since last week after several units came into service adding 860 megawatts to the system.
William Ríos Mera, PREPA’s Generation Director, said that between Tuesday night and yesterday, Unit #2 at the Aguirre plant in Salinas, with a capacity of 450 megawatts, Unit #5 at the San Juan plant, with 200 megawatts, and Unit #3 at the Palo Seco plant in Cataño, with 210 megawatts, resumed operations.
“This is excellent news. In case of an event, we will be able to respond. We have some of our emergency equipment (‘peaking units’) turned off because they are not necessary, which tells us that we have additional generation capacity to respond to events,” he said.
“We have enough reserve in service, which means that the units that are operating could generate more than what they are already providing now,” he added.
According to Ríos Mera, the only “unscheduled” repair work in progress is Unit #6 at the Costa Sur plant in Guayanilla, which went out of service on August 22 due to a failure in a 115,000-volt transmission line, operated by LUMA Energy. The repair will take “a couple of months” since it will be necessary to send some parts to the manufacturer in the United States.
Ríos Mera said he did not know how much the cost of the blackouts that impacted customers over the past week-and-a-half will be. He referred the matter to LUMA since the consortium activates the outages manually.
In a recent interview with El Nuevo Día, PREPA Executive Director Efran Paredes admitted that the power outages would have an impact on the next rates reconciliation due to the cost of operating the peaking units, which use more expensive fuel.
The Puerto Rico Energy Bureau has the final say on rate issues, according to law. The analysis of the next rate revision should take place at the end of September, seeking that new factors begin to be charged on October 1 and remain in effect until December.
Yesterday, LUMA confirmed that they submitted to the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau a request for a rate adjustment due to “generation-related costs” on August 13. According to the consortium, in July, the “real costs” for the purchase of fuel and energy exceeded those of the previous month by $31.4 million.
Last Friday, in a technical hearing before the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau on the power outages, LUMA’s Chief Regulatory Officer, Mario Hurtado, estimated the reconciliation for the next quarter at $80 million, which could mean a new increase in the electricity bill.
When asked about this, Ríos Mera said: “I heard the figure, but I cannot give my opinion because I do not have the information”.
Meanwhile, the consumers’ representative on PREPA’s Governing Board, Tomás Torres Placa, stressed that, if the increase for the next quarter were to materialize, “it would not be a consequence of the increase in the cost of oil; this is an operation of the system”.
A smaller budget
At Friday’s technical hearing, Ríos Mera told the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau that 15 years ago, the budget for the maintenance of the generation units totaled $200 million. Yesterday, he confirmed that the figure for the current fiscal year is $106 million, that is, half.
He denied that the reduction has resulted in less maintenance to the plants, but acknowledged that Hurricane María in 2017 and last year’s earthquake led to postponing scheduled work “because we concentrated on restoring the service to the island.”
In Ríos Mera’s opinion, PREPA’s plants “are old, but that doesn’t mean we don’t do maintenance work.” “If that were not the case, we would not be able to generate 70 percent of Puerto Rico´s energy demand. Most of the maintenance is done according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, and we do it with them,” he added.
For Torres Placa, the generation fleet needs “adequate maintenance, with an adequate budget”. He recalled that, according to PREPA’s Integrated Resources Plan approved by the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau in August 2020, the public utility has five years from that date to phase out most of its current units.
“This requires two things: to provide adequate maintenance, with the appropriate budget, to the existing plants to take them to the date set to stop operating, and to continue with implementing renewable sources to have the necessary generation on the date set in the Integrated Resources Plan,” he insisted.
Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo, president of the Union of Electric and Irrigation Industry Workers (Utier), indicated that “although in theory, we could all imagine that we are going to remove the fleet in five years, it is impossible in practice.”
He mentioned, for example, that Costa Sur Units #3 and #4 have been inoperative for more than 10 years to be removed, and “they are still there”, as well as Palo Seco Unit #1, which remains inoperative post-María.
He also pointed out that finding the investment and obtaining the permits to build “new technology” takes more than five years.
“It´s all about maintenance. If you don’t allocate budget to maintenance, you can’t meet the standards that the manufacturer asks for the units,” he said and stressed that, “contrary to popular belief, the Authority has the newest units in all of Puerto Rico,” referring to Units #5 and #6 at the San Juan plant, which were built in 2005.