Gulf Power is sending another storm team to Puerto Rico to help restore electricity and rebuild the country’s electrical infrastructure, six months after back-to-back hurricanes left most of the island in the dark and destroyed a majority of the energy grid.
The 10-member team, comprised of eight lineworkers and two support staff from across Gulf Power’s service area, will replace a team that recently returned from more than 60 days on the island. This is the second team the energy company has sent since December, who typically spend 30-60 days helping restore power and a sense of normalcy to the people of Puerto Rico.
The team is scheduled to be in Puerto Rico for the next 30 days and will help rebuild the remaining part of the energy grid. While many of the members have been deployed restoring power after crippling snowstorms, thunderstorms and hurricanes, this will be a test of their skills and the ability to adapt to the conditions.
“While we’re used to working in hot weather and humidity during the summer months here at home, the temperatures have been a lot cooler, so we will have to adjust our work schedules and habits,” said Josh Rogers, who will lead the team and is the District Engineering supervisor in Panama City. “Along with the weather, the terrain is another safety concern. We’re not used to mountainous terrain and the narrow roadways we’ll encounter across the island. We just have to remember that along with restoring power, safety is our top priority.”
The team from Gulf Power will join forces with other Southern Company crews and a workforce of nearly 3,700 restoration workers and support personnel, including industry mutual assistance crews, and will focus on restoring service to approximately 145,000 customers on the island.
Once they arrive, the team will be assigned to the Barranquitas District of the Caguas Region in the center of the island where the crews will be faced with mountainous conditions. The first Gulf Power team was assigned to the western region of Mayaguez, the same region that has been assigned to the Southern Company incident management team that arrived in December and where Southern Company’s subsidiary, PowerSecure, continues to work.
With nearly 99 percent of customers in the Western region restored, this crew will move into areas where it’s more difficult to gain access to the power infrastructure.
“Our main focus will be to get down there safely, work safely to rebuild the remaining infrastructure that is damaged in some of the hardest-to-reach areas, and get the team back home safely,” said Rogers.
The restoration of the energy grid and getting power to residents is nearly complete. Just last week, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority announced that power had been restored to more than 90 percent of all customers across the island who were impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. According to PREPA, 35 of the island’s 78 municipalities are 95 percent or more energized, while six municipalities have been restored completely.
While Gulf Power will send team members to help finish the remaining restoration, the Pensacola-based energy company has also played a vital role in power restoration not only at home in Florida after Hurricanes Hermine, Matthew and Irma, but also assisting other crews after storms hit in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Texas and New York, deploying nearly 40 times since 2008.
This isn’t the first time many of this team’s members have been deployed on storm restoration duty. Rogers, along with many of the other team members, have helped other Southern Company sister energy companies and municipalities across the Southeast during their time of need in restoring power.
But for Rogers, he knows it’s important to help those who have been without the basic necessities of modern life, such as the ability to flip a switch and have the lights come on or turn the dial on the thermostat and get cool air from the air conditioner.
And he has his family’s support.
“I have the best wife anyone could ask for,” said Rogers. “She’s the reason I can deploy so far away for so long. My daughters understand that dad is going to help turn the lights back on for people that have been without power since before Halloween.”
PREPA enlisted the Mutual Assistance Network for aid in accelerating power restoration efforts following Hurricanes Maria and Irma. Edison Electric Institute manages the Mutual Assistance Network, whereby EEI member companies, including Southern Company, may receive and provide assistance in the form of personnel and equipment to aid in restoring power.
Since October, Southern Company has been steadily involved in restoration efforts, including damage assessment; clearing debris; resetting poles; mobilizing equipment; providing temporary emergency power; ensuring adequate generation at power plants; and reinstalling and repairing transmission and distribution lines.