LUMA linemen shortage jeopardizes the fast power grid reconstruction process, warns U.S. Energy Secretary

The content originally appeared on: News Americas Now

Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: El Nuevo Día

Although at the end of her five-day visit to Puerto Rico, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm expressed hope for the ongoing work to rebuild the island’s power grid, she warned that the transmission and distribution networks – operated by LUMA Energy – require much more workforce to bring the grid to an acceptable standard.

“The transmission and distribution lines, I’ve been traveling throughout the island and I’m shocked at how bad they are. Things you can notice with the naked eye, and I know why it’s so incredibly important to address workforce issues. Wooden poles still holding too many lines and equipment leaning, about to fall over with the next gust, especially on the mountain. Mother nature impacts poles and wires, creating greater hazards, poles on poles with visibly dangling wires. Not only does it look bad, but it is dangerous, especially for vulnerable communities,” Granholm said yesterday afternoon during a press conference with Governor Pedro Pierluisi.

“This effort to replace poles is huge. Although there is money to repair and replace poles, and the work is in progress – and I understand that LUMA talks about 25,000 poles and streetlights that have been repaired and replaced, a large number – they don’t have enough linemen to do the job,” said the U.S. Energy Secretary, who held a meeting with LUMA’s executive and staff as well as with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Last Monday, on the first day of her official trip, Granholm visited LUMA College in Can?vanas, where she spoke with LUMA executives and students. Yesterday, in her meeting with the press, the official said that LUMA has approximately 600 vacancies.

The Energy Secretary directly called Puerto Ricans to consider joining LUMA: “You don’t need to have experience. You can start as a trainee and receive a salary of $71,000 a year plus benefits. As a trainee, you get paid while you train. Last year there were trainees who, through overtime, generated $130,000 and the salary continues to increase as you gain experience.”

Shay Bahramirad, the consortium’s Senior Vice President of Engineering and Asset Management, said LUMA recognizes the need to grow its workforce and has set a five-year plan.

“Currently, we have more than 1,400 linemen and 3,500 men and women (total employees). As we progress, there is an opportunity to recruit, and we plan to increase the linemen workforce by 40% over the next five years,” Bahramirad said.

$1 billion program on track

Granholm, on the other hand, mentioned that the comment period on how the Department of Energy should distribute the $1 billion congressional appropriation, which is expected to benefit some 40,000 families with the installation of solar panels and battery storage, closes on April 21.

However, as Governor Pierluisi told El Nuevo Dia last week, Granholm said the Department of Energy remains open about the purpose to use the funds approved by Congress last December. In his interview with this newspaper, Pierluisi said the development of microgrids is an area that the DOE could impact, since the state government already administers several programs to install solar systems in households, particularly for low-income families.

“Clearly, microgrids are a piece of that process, as are rooftop panels. Both (will be included in the program), and perhaps (allocations aimed at recruiting) workforce. That’s why we’re in the process of designing the program and will issue a request for proposals for funding opportunities after the comment period closes,” the Energy Secretary said.

This week, FEMA approved an allocation of $10.2 million for the first stage of the development of different microgrids that would completely energize the island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra. These projects would cost $97 million. The microgrids would operate independently from Puerto Rico’s central grid and would have the capacity to generate 12.5 megawatts (MW) in Vieques and 3 MW in Culebra.

At the press conference, held at the Antiguo Casino de Puerto Rico, Pierluisi announced that COR3 submitted to the Department of Energy the plan for the use of $3.7 million for a power outage prevention program.

“We have already identified organizations and entities in different parts of the island, including our mountain area, that have projects already advanced and need economic support to complete the next steps to develop the microgrids,” said the governor, who specified that the state government will contribute $1.7 million.

FEMA was represented at the press conference by Deputy Associate Administrator for Response and Recovery Keith Turi. The agency’s national administrator, Deanne Criswell, who was supposed to meet with Pierluisi and Granholm yesterday, excused herself because she is in Mississippi dealing with the emergency caused by severe storms and tornadoes a week ago.

With yesterday’s meeting with state and federal officials, Granholm concluded her second official visit to Puerto Rico since Hurricane Fiona hit the island last September. During this visit, the Energy Secretary visited Orocovis, Adjuntas, Yauco, Mayag?ez, and Isabela, in addition to the LUMA College in Can?vanas.