PREPA blames energy regulator’s intransigence for delays in power plant repairs
By The Star Staff
For 11 months, the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau (PREB) has denied Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s (PREPA) calls for technical hearings to justify fixing specific power plant units to boost energy reserves, PREPA Executive Director Josué Colon says.
The PREB did not answer requests for comment. However, during a recent PREPA board hearing, Colon said that PREPA needs to have at least 1000MW in reserve to take units out of service for repairs. Repairing units takes time because when taken out of service, others must take their place to avoid blackouts and disruption in service.
“We have 328MW in rotation reserve when we should have 600MG or a minimum of 450MW. That is technical data we continually express to the Bureau. It is not that we want to repair units that are not needed. It is just that to have a reliable operation, we need to have more power generation. Demand reached 3000 MW this year, and if we need to do repairs, it is a simple mathematical equation that we need to have 4000MW of available generation to take out units and repair them,” Colon said.
While PREPA has dire financial problems, it has federal and utility funds to repair the system for the first time since 2014. However, those repairs are being delayed by the energy regulator, which by law, must determine if the repairs comply with the Integrated Resource Plan, the long-term plan detailing the U.S. territory’s energy needs.
Colon told PREPA’s board that units 8 and 10 from the San Juan Power Plant and Unit 1 of the Cambalache Power Plant and projects that seek to replace peaking and antiquated black-start units are awaiting PREB’s green light for PREPA to proceed with repairs. Unit 1 in Cambalache has been out of service for almost 15 years, and units 8 and 10 from San Juan since 2017.
In November of 2021, PREPA began petitioning PREB for its authorization to do repairs to increase energy production, but Colon said PREB’s delays are stopping PREPA from completing repairs. “PREPA has the funds available without increasing the cost per kilowatt hour. These are projects that take a long time in planning and development, and we need the Bureau to approve them,” Colon said.
The PREB authorized repairs to Unit 7 in the San Juan Power Plant, but PREPA needs to have units 8 and 10 operating to carry on repairs in Unit 7. “That Unit (7) is operating, but I can not take it out because I would be withdrawing megawatts from the system. So that is why it is important to have units 8 and 10 in operation,” he said.
PREPA’s board consumer representative Tomás Torres Placa said PREPA is suffering problems because Unit 1 in Aguirre, which has 450MW, could not come into service. Units 5 and 6 in Costa Sur, which provide another 450MW of energy, are operating in a limited capacity. Torres said that besides approving $16 million in repairs to Unit 7 in the San Juan power plant, PREB had approved $306 million in repairs.
Colon, however, noted that PREPA may be unable to do $100 million of the $300 million in repairs approved by PREB because the energy regulator did not support the entire work scope. “When you look at the details of what was approved, there are lines that were not approved and that prevents me from doing work,” he said.
PREPA expects Unit 1 from Aguirre to be ready in January and San Juan units 5 and 6, both of which were damaged by Hurricane Fiona. In addition, several units in the Mayaguez power plant are slated to be ready next month.
PREPA has several operating units that need repairs, such as San Juan unit 9; unit 2 in the Aguirre Power Plant and units 5 and 6 in the Costa Sur Power plant, the latter operating but in a limited capacity. The repairs of these units will be hastened when Unit 4 in Palo Seco becomes operational next week.
PREPA is still working on the claims paperwork after the generation system suffered an estimated $150 million in damages from Hurricane Fiona, Colon said.