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Electrical System Collapsed During Jeanne

Internal Prepa report contradicts Rosario; shows less than 13% of electric power grid was operable by noon on Sept. 15


September 30, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s (Prepa) system-operations report for Sept. 15, the day Tropical Storm Jeanne hit, shows the island’s largest electricity-generating plants collapsed between noon and 1:00 p.m. while operating at their average capacity, causing expensive damage to the equipment.

Not only did the thermoelectric plants collapse, but so did the island’s gas and steam turbines and the co-generation plants. The failures meant the system was producing only some 607 megawatts (MW) to power the entire island out of a maximum capacity of 4,747 MW, or less than 13%.

CARIBBEAN BUSINESS obtained the daily system-operations report and other documents exclusively from a source at Prepa. The source preferred to remain anonymous but came forward because of concern regarding misleading information provided by the agency’s top executives to the public.

"The report confirms that Palo Seco’s thermoelectric plants Nos. 2, 3, and 4 collapsed on Wednesday at 11:48 a.m., 12:00 p.m., and 11:44 a.m., respectively," said the source. "Palo Seco No. 4 was operating at 168 MW when it collapsed, dangerously close to its peak generating capacity of 216 MW. After the collapse, the low-pressure turbine’s atmospheric diaphragms were so damaged they had to be replaced. Unit No. 2 was operating at 80 MW [with a peak capacity of 85 MW], and No. 3 was operating at 168 MW [with a peak capacity of 216 MW].

"Due to the system’s collapse, other generating plants were damaged," continued the Prepa source. "San Juan Thermoelectric No. 7’s rotor isn’t producing the necessary output and is out of commission, and Costa Sur No. 4’s boiler has two cracks. The gas turbines at Salinas have five broken pipes in Aguirre No. 1’s boiler wall and two broken pipes in the same place in Aguirre No. 2, which had to be repaired. And Prepa was forced to reduce Aguirre No. 1’s generating capacity to 50 MW and to keep Aguirre No. 2 out of service on Saturday [Sept. 18] because of water contamination."

Reports by industry experts in the weeks since Jeanne’s passage have indicated that power plants must be monitored closely if there exists a possibility that the generation and distribution grid could be damaged. One of the first precautions that must be taken is the slow reduction of the plants’ generating capacity. If a plant is operating at more than 50% of its peak capacity when objects such as broken trees and flying debris strike or knock transmission poles down, the resultant shock to the power grid can be destructive.

According to Prepa’s daily system-operation report for Sept. 15, the San Juan, Palo Seco, Costa Sur, and Aguirre thermoelectric systems collapsed by noon because of Tropical Storm Jeanne. The storm also caused Aguirre’s steam plants, Cambalache’s gas turbines, and the systems belonging to co-generators EcoElectrica and AES to fail by that time.

"When the technicians went to inspect the systems on Thursday, the filed reports indicated cracks in equipment, failed start-ups, a damaged generator in Costa Sur No. 3, and a cracked boiler in Costa Sur No. 4," said the Prepa source.

"Aguirre’s steam turbines alone had an oil leak in the electrohydraulic system, a broken cooling fan, and a damaged rotor. Most of these repairs were still being made on Monday, Sept. 20 [the date of the last report obtained]."

Prepa has agreed to allow the State Society of Engineers & Surveyors of Puerto Rico to analyze all of the documents related to the agency’s performance and handling of the power grid during Tropical Storm Jeanne. The results are expected by the first week in October. Prepa Executive Director Hector Rosario still insists the decision to disconnect the system was planned and was made in consensus with Prepa Systems Director Edwin Rivera and five technicians that compose Rivera’s division. The damage to Puerto Rico’s power grid was estimated at $60 million.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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