Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island situated between the Dominican Republic and the Virgin Islands, making it a prime target for hurricanes and tropical storms. The Caribbean averages ten hurricanes per year during hurricane season (between June and November). Puerto Rico experienced severe damage in 2017 when hurricanes Irma (category 5) and Maria (category 4) swept across the island within two weeks of each other. In addition to the consecutive storms and the resulting damage, the power system that the island had in place at the time was no match for even one hurricane of that magnitude.
The Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority (PREPA) became bankrupt, and FEMA stepped in to find a company to reconstruct the electrical system. In 2021, Quanta won the bid to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power system, partnering with LUMA. This project is significant for two reasons: the failing distribution and transmission systems, and the number of storms in the area. Due to the urgency for LUMA to make impactful restorations to the island’s power system, Quanta decided that some of the Operating Units should send crews to aid and enhance the local efforts and meet our contractual obligations. SEC was the best choice because we were the closest, had the necessary resources, and already had a relationship with IBEW local 222. Furthermore, while SEC covers many different departments such as transmission, distribution, and substation, we are more widely known for helping with storm damage, making us the perfect fit for the job.
Currently, over 120 individuals are working on the assignment under the direction of Jim Bowen, SEC’s Senior Vice President. The Puerto Rico project is of special interest to Jim because of the opportunity to entirely rebuild the system. “There were over 2000 outages per day when our crews first started. We now have it down to under 100.”
According to Jim, the island needed more equipment to complete the project. Equipment such as bucket trucks, digger derricks, and pickup trucks are slowly being shipped to Puerto Rico using barges. Today, SEC is not only working to rebuild the power infrastructure, but through Quanta, we are evaluating the skills of workers on the island and will be setting up training centers to help improve the skills of Puerto Ricans and teach the trade to recruits.
Quanta has a training school in Houston, TX, and is flying in Puerto Ricans to properly train them as linemen. The islanders speak predominantly Spanish, so there is a challenging language barrier that requires translators but helping the local workers learn how to maintain electrical power themselves is rewarding for all who are involved.
By the time SEC/Quanta employees leave the island in an estimated fifteen years, there will be many Puerto Ricans who know how to properly power their island.