The Electric Power Authority (PREPA) had about 113,000 customers yesterday, -that is 8 percent of the total-, without service after the passage of Tropical Storm Isaias, but the public corporation’s Restructuring and Fiscal Affairs. Administrator, Fernando Padilla, said he is confident that much of the grid will be restored today.
However, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced had warned that 99 percent of the service should have been restored yesterday.
The governor asked PREPA Executive Director José Ortiz to explain why thousands of customers were without power even before the storm arrived. Although she did not say whether she trusted the head of PREPA, she noted that if there were no convincing explanations for the failure and if service was not normalized, she would take "the appropriate measures."
“It is not acceptable. There are people in many of the communities who were left without power on Saturday; others on Wednesday,” the governor said.
Meanwhile, Padilla explained that most of the areas that remained without power were in the southwestern region - from Yauco to Añasco –.
"We have seen progress during the morning (yesterday) and we´ll see more progress during the afternoon as we reach some substations in the southwest area," the official said. "I expect that by tomorrow (today), we will be very close to completing repair works," he added.
Padilla explained the grid showed no significant damage. The work to be done is mostly tree pruning and repairs to infrastructure damaged by falling trees and landslides.
“The rains and winds damaged service lines and substations,” said Padilla, who does not have an estimate of the economic damage.
Meanwhile, Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo, president of the Electrical and Irrigation Industry Workers Union (UTIER, Spanish acronym), said that damages in the system due to falling branches and trees were preventable.
"Regrettably, you have identified a problem but you have not fixed it," said the union leader, explaining that in 2000, PREPA had 600 pruners and today, only 200.
$37.5 Million in contracts
According to PREPA early this year, through these agreements, the public utility intended to "attack" one of the main causes of service interruptions, which is that branches contact transmission and distribution lines.
Although contracts expired on June 30, four of these contracts are still in effect because they were extended until September.
Just two months before these contracts expire, these companies have completed between 22 percent and 23 percent of the work in the more than 600 miles assigned, said Padilla, who was satisfied with the work done by the contractors.
"Tree pruning and vegetation issues are programs that the Authority has not executed for several years. We have a significant backlog in this area," he said.
The companies hired to do these works are Perfect Integrated Solutions, with a contract that reached $5.5 million; Master Link, which has had two contracts totaling $14 million; DCR Emergency and Xpert's, LLC, with contracts for $9 million each.
Figueroa Jaramillo said the work done by the firms needs to be investigated.
Meanwhile, Padilla argued that the rates paid to these companies are competitive and that "under no circumstances" was it more reasonable for the public utility to temporarily and directly hired the personnel needed to do that work -in which PREPA has the expertise- without an intermediary.
"Hiring an emergency employee has a cost and expense elements that are not comparable to a contract," Padilla argued. "The number of emergency employees we would need to execute this work becomes impossible to maintain," he added.
Figueroa Jaramillo noted that PREPA rejected UTIER's proposal, "which was between 30 percent and 50 percent lower", for emergency hiring under a special agreement.
Léster Jiménez contributed with this story.