SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico-- There they were, sitting on the apron of the runway. Transformers, 253 of them, waiting for unpackaging and pick up, the final pieces necessary for so many people's lives to get back to normal. No more evening treks to the gas station to keep the generators running.
"We get to have our lives back, the life we had before," said Iebeliza Cepeda, a resident of a small residential community in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.
Cepeda has been without power since Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the Island over four months ago. Cepeda runs her generator twice a day for four hours to help her neighbor who is dependent on dialysis at the cost of $15 a day.
Cepeda continued to say, "I miss the refrigerator and internet . . . not being able to communicate with family".
Saturday, January 20, 2018, the receiving staff at the airport had the transformers unwrapped, unpacked and ready for loading when the tractor trailers arrived for pickup at 9 a.m. After careful loading, they are small but dense weighing 347 pounds each, carrying a value not only measured in money but in time and suffering, are driven to the Palo Seco warehouse and laydown yard.
The Palo Seco warehouse and laydown yard serve as a collection and distribution point. As the transformers were pulling in, the warehouse staff were in the process of loading a shipment to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority office in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. The transformers were inventoried and inspected by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel while still on the truck; ten were immediately moved from one truck to the other, never actually touching the ground at Palo Seco. That evening 10 of the transformers from the morning flight and ten KVA - 50 transformers from the Palo Seco site are delivered to the PREPA, Rio Grande office.
Sunday, January 21, 2018, 10 transformers, three of the KVA - 25, and seven of the KVA - 50's were installed by the PREPA linemen of Rio Grande, into a small neighborhood in Rio Grande. However, the power was still not on, that did not come until the following morning when the final transformer, also from the Palo Seco shipment, was installed and the lights and the lives of the kind and patient people came alive.
While this success in logistics, planning, cooperation, and determination helped end the darkness for this small neighborhood, there are hundreds of thousands of people still out there without power waiting for their power to come on.
USACE is leading the federal effort to repair the hurricane-damaged electrical power grid in support of the Government of Puerto Rico, as assigned by Federal Emergency Management Agency. USACE is partnering with FEMA, PREPA, the Department of Energy and contracted partners, to restore safe and reliable power to the people of Puerto Rico.
The power restoration process has taken time, as recovery efforts enter into the fifth month for many without power a decision was made to fly some of the transformers to the island as they came available. Industry partners agreed to expedite delivery of 2,600 transformers from their inventory through the Defense Logistics Agency, to speed up the power restoration efforts.
"Due to the need and the lack of availability of transformers in the U.S., we decided to fly in any necessary, available transformers while the stocks necessary are being manufactured. We wanted to turn on as many lights as we can as quickly we can, " said Maj. Stewart Cathey, Bill of Materials Officer in Charge. "Our mission is to turn on the lights for the people of Puerto Rico. Flying these transformers in helped us get power to a region quicker than had we brought them by barge."
The transformers reduce the voltage from main distribution lines before going to homes and businesses. Often it can be the last piece needed to energize a line.
As of January 24, 2018, PREPA is reporting 68.53% percent or 1,000,454 of the 1,470,000M customers who can receive electric power have their service restored.