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Cordero Concerned About Power Grid’s Instability

Encourages Expert Scrutiny Of Prepa Data


September 23, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Former Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) Executive Director Miguel Cordero is more concerned today about what will happen if another storm like Tropical Storm Jeanne hits Puerto Rico, fearing the island’s power grid can’t withstand more bad weather.

"At this point, and after the passage of Tropical Storm Jeanne, I am more worried about what will happen if another storm hits the island," said Cordero during an exclusive interview with CARIBBEAN BUSINESS on Monday. "Our power grid is very weak and vulnerable now. Circuit breakers and switches have become susceptible to breakdown due to the power grid’s shutdown; tower sensors and the entire system are too sensitive to breakdowns. And the hurricane season isn’t over. If another storm comes near us soon, we won’t have enough time to recover."

Initial estimates regarding the damage to Puerto Rico’s electricity system stand at $60 million. Electricity should be restored to at least 75% of Prepa’s clients throughout the island by this week, but the remaining 25% could remain without power for an additional two to three weeks.

According to Cordero, Prepa’s decision to shut down the power grid was probably made when the system collapsed due to poor maintenance. "The power grid collapsed due to lack of maintenance along the power lines; trees and shrubs were hanging too closely. I have no doubt the distribution lines collapsed because of this problem. But there was no reason for the transmission lines to break down. When the electricity was gradually reduced, power generation should have been reduced as well. If the transmission lines failed as well, that caused the system to collapse," he said.

Cordero, an electrical engineer who worked at Prepa for over 30 years and served as its executive director from 1993 until his retirement in 2000, took exception to Prepa Executive Director Hector Rosario’s comparing Jeanne with 1998’s Hurricane Georges.

"Hurricane Georges was a category-four storm with winds of 140 miles per hour [mph]," said Cordero. "There is no comparison to Jeanne’s 60-mph to 70-mph winds. If a comparison needs to be made, it would be more accurate to compare Jeanne with Hurricane Hortense in 1996, which brought mostly rain. The only problem that Hortense caused was in Bayamon, when the Bayamon River brought down the 230-kilovolt transmission towers. And why were there problems in Mayaguez and Ponce if the storm didn’t cause any damage to those areas?

"What Prepa needs to do is deliver the necessary documents regarding Tropical Storm Jeanne to the State System of Engineers & Surveyors of Puerto Rico, as has been requested, so they can analyze the data and provide an impartial opinion about the steps that were taken by the agency. In 1998, the Federal Emergency Management Agency brought experts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review the emergency protocols taken during Hurricane Georges, and the agency backed our decisions. Maybe that should also be done on this occasion. But Prepa must learn from this occurrence, because if the power grid isn’t handled properly, it can easily be destroyed," said Cordero.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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