Keystone Energy Board Members Work to Rebuild a Resilient Grid in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s already struggling, $9 billion-in-debt power grid was severely damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017. Keystone Energy Board member organizations Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA), CPS Energy, and Navigant, along with other mainland energy utilities, associations, government agencies, consultants, elected officials, and other leaders, are supporting the efforts to rebuild the island’s electric system.

During the Keystone Energy Board’s February 9 meeting in Keystone, Colo., which took stock of energy and climate policy a year into the Trump administration, SEPA President and CEO Julia Hamm updated the Energy Board on her work in Puerto Rico, alongside fellow Energy Board members Paula Gold-Williams, President and CEO of CPS Energy in San Antonio, Texas, and Jan Vrins, Managing Director of Navigant’s Global Energy Practice. Hamm shared what she has learned as rebuilding — and a reimagination of a more resilient grid for Puerto Rico — gets underway, presenting on the extent of the damage in Puerto Rico, the plans for rebuilding, and the political and logistical challenges that will affect the effort.

Under the leadership of a Steering Committee that included Hamm, a Puerto Rico Energy Resilience Working Group prepared the Build Back Better report, which analyzed the storm damage to the Puerto Rican power system and provided rebuild recommendations to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), the Puerto Rico governor’s office, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other stakeholders. Hamm is also a member of PREPA’s Transformation Advisory Council (TAC), which was formed to provide PREPA’s leadership with guidance as the grid is rebuilt and strengthened. The TAC is co-led by David Owens, a former Energy Board member who recently retired as Executive Vice President of the Edison Electric Institute, and Dr. Cris Eugster, Gold-Williams’ colleague and Chief Operating Office at CPS Energy.

The TAC and PREPA face a daunting task. Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans remain without power, and Hamm explained that there’s a conundrum in the tension between “getting the power back on as fast as possible and the desire to use this opportunity to transform the system.” Vrins of Navigant, which led the development of the Build Back Better report, echoed Hamm’s remarks and emphasized the need to balance between putting existing assets to good use and building new electric infrastructure. Essential, too, is ensuring the successful restoration of power to the island’s manufacturing facilities — which support a manufacturing industry that makes up nearly half of Puerto Rico’s GDP.

Gold-Williams, who runs the country’s largest municipally owned utility providing both natural gas and electric service, fully understood the challenges that PREPA, a fellow member of the Large Public Power Council, faces. Gold-Williams has overseen CPS Energy’s other post-hurricane relief efforts in Texas and Florida, and she emphasized that “Puerto Rico has a difficult set of issues to conquer — logistically, financially, politically, and technically — all the while they will soon be facing a new hurricane season. Even so, I feel confident that the rebuilding of Puerto Rico will ultimately be a successful effort, and that it is the perfect place to be creative and innovative with new and improved solutions.”

With 2017 marking the most expensive year for natural disasters in the United States, Energy Board members expressed their concerns that these challenges are not and will not be unique to Puerto Rico. “These disasters are going to keep happening,” Vrins noted. “Putting the wires back up over and over again is not the answer.”

Amidst these challenges, Hamm is hopeful for the island of Puerto Rico, where most stakeholders share a common vision for rebuilding and strengthening an electric grid that is customer-centric, safe, reliable, and an economic engine for the island. Organizations like SEPA, CPS Energy, Navigant, and others remain committed to supporting PREPA and the American citizens of Puerto Rico through this transition — exactly the kind of collaboration among diverse experts that Keystone champions with its Energy Board and energy and climate project work.

Through the Energy Board, which meets again on June 5 in Washington, D.C., Keystone will continue to provide a forum to discuss problems of this magnitude and complexity. With 50 members representing different perspectives on energy and climate policy from the industry, technology, environment, consumer advocacy, and state and federal government arenas, the Energy Board facilitates the dynamic, candid, and in-depth conversations needed to tackle the energy sector’s most pressing challenges.

Check back here to learn more about what the Energy Board will be discussing throughout the year — and for more information on Keystone’s emerging project work, particularly as it relates to how communities large and small are innovating and incorporating technology into their energy systems to become more efficient, sustainable, and resilient.