Carlos Torres
Puerto Rico Power Restoration Coordinator

Hurricane Maria was one of the most devastating storms to ever hit the United States, leaving a path of death and destruction across Puerto Rico last September. The electric grid faced extensive damage that put virtually the entire population without power for weeks and months.

On this edition of the Columbia Energy Exchange podcast, host Bill Loveless talks to Carlos Torres, a former official with Consolidated Edison in New York, and the man assigned by the Governor of Puerto Rico with the difficult task of coordinating the restoration of electricity for the island. Carlos spent more than 30 years at Con Ed managing emergency management and storm restoration efforts, including overseeing the utility’s response to major storms like Super Storm Sandy and Hurricane Irene, and emergencies like the September 11 attack at the World Trade Center and the 2003 Northeast Blackout.

But putting the lights back on in Puerto Rico was the most challenging mission of his career, Carlos says. In fact, he told a congressional committee that the damage caused by Hurricane Maria on the island was unlike anything he and others in the industry had ever seen on the U.S mainland.

Bill and Carlos met recently in Washington, D.C. at the Edison Electric Institute, the trade association for investor-owned utilities in the United States where Carlos has worked as a consultant since October. With electricity now nearly restored in Puerto Rico after a year, Carlos talks about the difficulties of achieving that goal, and lessons learned regarding making electric grids resilient to Mother Nature in Puerto Rico and other parts of the United States. He and Bill also touched on the role public policy plays in promoting such resilience, especially now as we find ourselves in the midst of another hurricane season. 

View the Transcript

Bill Loveless:  One of the most devastating hurricanes do ever strike the United States wrecked havoc on Puerto Rico last September Hurricane Maria left a path of death and destruction across the island including extensive damage to its electric power grid that put virtually the entire population in the dark for weeks and months.  Hello and welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.  From Washington I am Bill Loveless.  Our guest today is Carlos Torres a former official with Consolidated Edison in New York and the man who signed the difficult task of coordinating the restoration of electricity in Puerto Rico.

 

Carlos is no stranger to disasters.  He spent more than 30 years at Con Ed managing emergency and storm restoration efforts.  As such, he oversaw the utilities response to major storms like super storms Sandy and Hurricane Irene and emergence like the 9/11 attacks and the 2003 Northeast Blackout, but putting the lights back on in Puerto Rico was the most challenged ambition of his career.  In fact, he told a congressional committee that the damage caused by Hurricane Maria on the island was unlike anything he and others in the industries had ever seen on the U.S. mainland.

 

I met with Carlos in Washington in early August at the Edison Electric Institute the trade association for investor-owned electric companies where he has worked as a consultant since October when Puerto Rico asked EEI and the American Public Power Association for assistance from U.S. Utilities to restore electricity on the island.  I tried for months to reach Carlos to talk about the prolonged blackout in Puerto Rico and the massive effort to put the lights back on, but of course arranging the conversation had been difficult until recently because of his deep involvement in that work.

 

Now with power nearly entirely restored on the island, we had a chance to get together to talk about the difficulties of achieving that goal and lessons learned regarding making electric grids resilient not only Puerto Rico, but also across the U.S.  We also talked about the role public policy plays in promoting resilience especially now as we find ourselves in the midst of another hurricane season.  Here is our conversation.  Carlos Torres, welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange.

 

[00:02:25]

Carlos Torres:  Thank you very much Bill and good morning.

 

 

 

[00:02:27]

Bill Loveless:  Carlos, you’ve seen it all when it comes to natural disasters and terrorism including the 9/11 in New York, super storm sandy in 2012, the 2003 blackout in the Northeast not to mention other disasters that have struck in recent years, but Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico was -- was much different than anything you had seen before.  Tell us why?

 

[00:02:56]

Carlos Torres:  So -- so when I got to the island, first thing was you know, I spoke with the -- the folks at PREPA to kind of get their take on --

 

[00:02:27]

Bill Loveless:  That’s Puerto Rico --

 

[00:03:06]

Carlos Torres:  Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and just to gage from their perspective what the impact on the island was.  And then you know, I had to go see it for myself.  So Manny Miranda who was there with me from Florida Power and Light the both of us we toured around the island both via helicopter to kind of take a -- a big picture view and then we drove around to kind of see it from the ground level.  And this -- this storm what -- and I am going to say storms because Irma came first two weeks earlier.

 

[00:03:40]

Bill Loveless:  That’s right.

 

[00:02:27]

Carlos Torres:  And then Maria came and Maria really packed the while up and they called it a category 4, but it was a -- a very low category 5 high -- very high category 4 and it severely impacted their transmission system.

 

[00:03:53]

Bill Loveless:  They were a 155 mile an hour winds at that time.

 

[00:03:56]

Carlos Torres:  Right.  Yep exactly and that’s the borderline between a 4 and a 5 I mean you just see one more mile and you’re into the 5 category.  And regardless of the wind, I mean the wind was so strong and the elevations and their transmission systems and it runs mountain top to mountain top.  Their -- their sub transmission system and their distribution system is throughout the island and you got to understand that the -- the PREPA has been going through a financial crisis for years.

 

 

[00:04:30]

Bill Loveless:  Right, right.

 

[00:04:31]

Carlos Torres:  And the --

 

[00:04:31]

Bill Loveless:  The utility is bankrupt.

 

[00:04:32]

Carlos Torres:  Right the utility is in bankruptcy and you know being nine million dollars in debt -- nine billion -- I am sorry nine billion dollars in debt they have not maintained their system.  So basically de crap it, was falling apart not maintained, no vegetation management, zero vegetation management it wasn’t zero they hadn’t done it for years, --

 

[00:04:55]

Bill Loveless:  And the lights were off for virtually the entire population of the island.

 

[00:05:00]

Carlos Torres:  The entire island was down because the transmission system was down.  Luckily, their generation was impacted, but not as greatly and they were able to you know, generate power.  They needed some additional support, but they were able to generate power, they restarted a couple of units that they had mothballed and then it was the -- the effort of rebuilding it’s first the transmission systems because you have to be able to get the power, so a lot of the power is generated in the south of the island, most the people the majority of the people live in the north of the island.  So without a transmission system, you’re not going to get the power to where it’s needed.  So that was one of their first challenges was to get some critical transmission lines from the -- from the south to the north up and operating.

 

[00:05:46]

Bill Loveless:  And this didn’t happen very quickly at least in terms of when the storm hit the hurricane, Hurricane Maria was on September 20th when it hit the island, the recovery didn’t begin, it got off to a slow start there had been the financial condition of -- of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and Puerto Rico itself which played a role in that there was a controversial contract with the company called Whitefish Energy Holdings Puerto Rico aligned up to try to get things going at the start and then there was a delay in requesting the mutual assistance from U.S. power companies what happened?

 

 

[00:06:22]

Carlos Torres:  So, you know, I don’t want to get into the head of the executive director at the time Ricardo Ramos, but I mean he was challenged.  I mean he was challenged financially and trying to get help and he felt that he wasn’t going to get the help that he needed.  I mean it took 40 plus days before the official request for mutual assistance came from Ricardo and the governor of Puerto Rico --

 

[00:06:43]

Bill Loveless:  Which is a long time for that sort of request typically.

 

[00:06:45]

Carlos Torres:  That’s very long -- that is very long and -- so as soon as the request came in on October 31st I -- I went down Manny Miranda and myself both flew down on November 3rd and that’s when -- that’s when we started.

 

[00:07:00]

Bill Loveless:  How were you appointed to that you’re appointed by the -- by the governor --

 

[00:07:03]

Carlos Torres:  So it didn’t happen all of a sudden it actually -- Manny and I were down on the island and we took the tour and we kind of started working with the PREPA folks in terms of defining the scope based on whatever information we had at that time.  So there was no -- there was high level damage assessment of the impact to the -- to the transmission system done by helicopter by PREPA and then there was very little distribution in sub -- sub transmission damage assessment.  So we had to --

 

[00:07:31]

Bill Loveless:  Start from scratch?

 

[00:07:32]

Carlos Torres:  Start from scratch is to say the least it was pretty much a white board and we sat down with PREPA to try to put a scale to the amount of damage that existed and this is where Manny Miranda you know we -- I think we made a great team because we bounced a lot of ideas of each other.  He’s been involved with many storms, I’ve been involved with many storms --

 

[00:07:54]

Bill Loveless:  Florida because of Florida Power and Light which is done very good job many would say and hardening it’s own system and the phase of hurricanes throughout Florida in recent years, but I was going to ask how did you end up in this job.  I know you’ve had a background at Con Ed and the sort of thing but when --

[00:08:11]

Carlos Torres:  So I actually retired effective October 31st from Con Edison and I announced it back in September and at Edison Electric Institute asked me if I would be interested to -- to work with them to go down to the island and provide you know, some -- some support into PREPA in -- in any fashion.  So when that official request came in October 31st I was asked to go down with Manny.  So we both went down and we spend about a week and a half down in Puerto Rico doing the visiting and kind of working with the PREPA folks, with SIMA, with the army core of engineers, and the U.S. Department of Energy representatives were also on the island.  And we’re kind of trying to put a scale to what we had to deal with.

 

[00:08:59]

Bill Loveless:  Right.  Soon -- soon the trucks began arriving right I saw a -- a photograph at one point some 50 trucks in the barge headed for Puerto Rico --

 

[00:09:10]

Carlos Torres:  Yeah.  So when I was in Con Ed right after -- right after Maria hit, we started to work with New York state NYPA and the New York State Utilities to come down as part of the EMAC which is the Emergency Mutual Assistance Compact which is a process that is a state to state process so Governor Cuomo wanted to support Governor _____ [00:09:34] in providing support from New York State.  So we started first -- the first row was 90% folks assisted generating stations and the sub stations early on.  Then it was a team of about 30 to 40 utility folks from the state of New York both from NYPA and the other --

 

[00:09:54]

Bill Loveless:  New York Power Authority?

 

[00:09:56]

Carlos Torres:  Oh New York power companies and they send teams to go do the -- start doing the assessments.  It’s definitely not enough to do assessments, but to get it started.

 

[00:10:05]

Bill Loveless:  And under -- under a lot of pressure too because by that point days had passed weeks had passed and people were out of electricity, hospitals were struggling to operate and it was such a humanitarian disaster.

 

[00:10:17]

Carlos Torres:  So probably this is the right point to say it is the people of Puerto Rico are the most resilient I’ve ever seen in my life.  I’ve gone through Sandy and I remember the day that we announced that it was going to take nine days to get power back and people went crazy.

 

[00:10:31]

Bill Loveless:  In New York?

 

[00:10:32]

Carlos Torres:  In New York and you know we told them it’s going to be at least a week or two before the power gets back before the storm hits.  Now we go do our initial assessments, we come back, we put our plan out and we say it’s going to take about nine days to get the vast majority of the customers back in service.  They just couldn’t handle it.

 

[00:10:49]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.

 

[00:10:50]

Carlos Torres:  So you go to Puerto Rico and as if today there is a 104 customers still out without power in Puerto Rico.  So they’re 99.99% customers restored.

 

[00:11:00]

Bill Loveless:  How -- how quickly Carlos though did you get up to the point where the majority of customers were with electricity 90% or whatever --

 

[00:11:10]

Carlos Torres:  That end of February.

 

[00:11:12]

Bill Loveless:  Okay.

 

[00:11:12]

Carlos Torres:  End of February we you know, and this is something that the governor had asked and he had asked me when do you believe based on the information I had at the time when will we get power back?  And I said, probably end of end of February beginning of March --

 

[00:11:26]

Bill Loveless:  And that’s what would happen?

 

[00:11:27]

Carlos Torres:  Yep.

 

[00:11:28]

Bill Loveless:  But it was still months before people --

 

[00:11:30]

Carlos Torres:  Oh, yeah.

 

[00:11:31]

Bill Loveless:  most people got -- got power and most businesses I would say.

 

[00:11:34]

Carlos Torres:  Yeah.  So we have we have a strategy.  I mean I use and I think Manny, myself and most companies you know, we always go with critical customers first.  So you’re going to go for the hospitals, the nursing homes, the water pumping, water treatment facilities, things that you need to get people back up and running to be as normal as possible.

 

[00:11:55]

Bill Loveless:  What -- what were the biggest challenges when you think back on it what were the challenges were maybe a scratchy head and say how we’re going to -- how are we going to get through this, what are we going to do here?

 

[00:12:07]

Carlos Torres:  So I am going to say there were there were two things.  They were numerous challenges throughout this whole event.  I think probably the -- the two biggest challenges was damage assessment the ability to get out and really assess the damage and in a real good format that -- that would be effective, that would give us real detailed information that we struggled with.

 

[00:12:30]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah, just getting on to -- to jungle areas and places were roads were --

 

[00:12:34]

Carlos Torres:  And this -- and this feeds into the next which is materials there was a huge lack of material.  PREPA because of their financial crisis sold off a lot of material in advance years in advance and even months before the storm hit.  So they didn’t have any material in stock.  They had very little, so that’s where FEMA had to come in and provide the support and they bought in the army core of engineers because they didn’t see a lot of movement in resources coming.  So they -- they mission ordered the army core of engineers for power restoration which is something that they’ve never done and they were learning as they were doing.

 

And they were -- they were good partners and we were challenged through because this is something that they are not used to doing.  And they were also charged with us procuring and distributing and managing the materials which again is something that they’ve never done.  They don’t know the power systems, they don’t the equipment, so we partnered with them and we had a unified materials so we called the bomb squad _____ [00:13:37] material squad that went and worked together to try to secure as much material and --

 

[00:13:32]

Bill Loveless:  Did you have to scramble to find this material from perhaps other utilities on the main land?

 

[00:13:46]

Carlos Torres:  So -- so the biggest challenge was there was Harvey, Irma, Maria the forest fires in the West Coast that hit before Maria hit.  So now there was desert drawn materials so there is not the availability is not there.  Secondly, PREPA’s system is not like the typical main land system they had this interesting voltage the sub transmission voltage of 38 KV.  And that’s something that’s not typically in the main lands so trying to find material, insulators, wire and things like that to replace and transformers that -- that work on 38 KV system was very difficulty and really put a strain in and PREPA was somewhat hesitant to go with alternate materials, but eventually they came through -- they came through and they went back a little bit and were more flexible and we found alternate materials.  We did go through vendors, we did go through the industry to try to secure materials --

 

[00:14:53]

Bill Loveless:  But it must have been hard?

 

[00:14:54]

Carlos Torres:  It was very difficult and stuff was being manufactured.  So you know the poles, the wire, the transformers they all had recent daytime as it was you know date of December so it’s not like it’s in on a shelf ready to go.

 

[00:15:10]

Bill Loveless:  Right.  And there was the manufacturing capability they had to get the stuff so manufactured.

 

[00:15:15]

Carlos Torres:  So manufactured, but then you got to get there so that’s the other challenge right is getting the material to the island.  So you have to barge this a lot of this material not all of it, and then you can bring things via airplane through freight -- freight airlines and we use -- we use FEMA Logistics to support a lot of that transportation of material to the island.

 

[00:15:41]

Bill Loveless:  Right.

 

[00:15:43]

Bill Loveless:  But there were challenges I mean they got to remember where in winter and the water that cease don’t aren’t too susceptible to barge movement.  And so a lot of -- a lot of schedules got pushed back and delayed because of the weather.

 

[00:15:56]

Bill Loveless:  I would think too that just once you get these materials to the island just hanging these transmission lines must have been so difficult.  I got the impression just from what I was I read in the papers and all that perhaps that was a single most difficult thing was to hang those lines in areas where -- where the towers had been toppled or damaged, where you had jungles, where you had impossible roads --

 

[00:16:23]

Carlos Torres:  So I’ll be honest with you.  So I’ve never been involved with restoring a transmission system.

 

[00:16:30]

Bill Loveless:  Ah, that’s true.

 

[00:16:31]

Carlos Torres:  I’ve mostly -- I’ve done underground transmission in Con Ed, but involved with it but never -- we never had a overhead transmission event.  Here on the other hand, and this is -- this is the beauty of -- of the incident command system where I was able to bring set up a unified command along with PREPA, FEMA, Army Core and myself and we had a unified command then I bought in incident management teams to help me manage these events.  So I had a central incident management team and then I had one for each of the several regions of PREPA and they partnered with the regional administrators and their folks to manage at a regional level.

 

[00:17:15]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.

 

[00:17:16]

Carlos Torres:  So that got centralized and decentralized response.

 

[00:17:`17]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah, yeah.  But when you get on the ground, I mean how do you get the lines backup for those areas are you -- are you using --

 

 

 

[00:17:24]

Carlos Torres:  Well we have to bring people in and equipment so we bought the army corp bought contractors in PREPA had their contractors --

 

[00:17:29]

Bill Loveless:  Do you use helicopters out to --

 

[00:17:31]

Bill Loveless:  So I’ll tell you we have to use helicopters even for the distribution and the sub transmission system because of the terrain.  So in the city areas it’s much easier --

 

[00:17:40]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.

 

[00:17:41]

Carlos Torres:  but still a lot of damage you have to take out the damage the equipment, but then when you get into the terrain the towers that you had to install.  The type of towers they had various different types of towers in PREPA, but probably the majority of them are these Vs and Delta-v towers that very dependent on anchoring.  But they are very good because they can -- they are very light, they are aluminum and they can hand the movement pretty well, but being the fact that they didn’t have a maintenance program to maintain the anchoring systems.  A lot of them were very crowded and weren’t even structurally sound so that created an issue where we had to now replace anchors we had to replace a lot the guy-wires and the towers, but you know, one of the things that we did was there are -- there is plates that you put on these towers we want with steel plates versus aluminum plates just to strengthen those movement points.

 

[00:18:40]

Bill Loveless:  Make them more resilient.

 

[00:18:41]

Carlos Torres:  Right.  So we are a little because of the restoration being funded through FEMA we’re under the Stafford Act.

 

[00:18:48]

Bill Loveless:  Stafford Act?

 

[00:18:50]

Carlos Loveless:  The Stafford Act is a law that governs how FEMA does cause recovery.  So you really cannot improve the system per say you have to go like in kind.

 

[00:19:00]

Bill Loveless:  Well, there is an interesting question because I -- I want to ask you know, was there an opportunity to build a new type of grid in Puerto Rico or did the restorations simply put back together the old system?

 

[00:19:13]

Carlos Torres:  So because of the Stafford Act and because of time I mean to restore power typically you do not go into the improvement you know, this is the -- this is I call it recovery and there is restoration that’s the emergency restoration then there is recovery and reconstruction.  And that’s the -- those are the things that are happening now down in Puerto Rico they’re working on towards the -- the you know, I call Build it Back Better --

 

[00:19:41]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.

 

[00:19:42]

Carlos Torres:  it was an initiative that -- that went on through the industry to support Puerto Rico on building a better system.  So part of it is you can’t do that in the midst of restoration so my mission there was to really restore the power bring people back, but I am going to say that through PREPA specks it allowed us to go back you know, where there was a wood pole I could -- or we could go back with either a galvanized steel or a concrete pole which is –

 

[00:20:13]

Bill Loveless:  To make a big difference.

 

[00:20:14]

Carlos Torres: which is hard into the system.

 

[00:20:15]

Bill Loveless:  Right.

 

[00:20:16]

Carlos Torres:  You know and then so -- and then the insulators you know you replace some insulators newer and stronger some a lot more glass and porcelain now you’re going back with composite so more flexible.

 

[00:20:29]

Bill Loveless:  Right that can make a big difference in terms of --

 

 

[00:20:31]

Carlos Torres:  It does, it does.  So we improved it, but probably not to the extent of I’ll call hardening of the system.

 

[00:20:36]

Bill Loveless:  Okay, but you know I understand your job was the recovery and not so much to rebuild or bring in innovative or smart grid or something along these lines, but still you must -- you’ve been in the power business for a long time and you saw a lot in the ground there.  You mentioned this Build Back Better campaign which is I understand it was involves the United States Department of Energy, National Labs and others including Con Ed

 

[00:21:00]

Carlos Torres:  Yeah.

 

[00:21:01]

Bill Loveless:  Cause for micro grids, more renewables, some 17 billion dollars --

 

[00:21:04]

Carlos Torres:  So we actually use micro grids down there.

 

[00:21:06]

Bill Loveless:  Okay.  Well tell me what -- what we might have learned from this experience in terms of how we and approves the grid to make it more resilient and not 00 beyond just concrete poles and things like that.

 

[00:21:16]

Carlos Torres:  Yeah, so I think the use of micro grids will definitely benefit the island where you’re not dependent on -- on the transmission and distribution system to get the power from long -- farther distances, but as I told congress when I testified I think that you know that you got to make that able to be handle the storm as well.  You still got to have a distribution, you got to deliver it, you have to take it to the delivery point, you have to take it to customers, you have to other than customers each having their own little micro grid, but that -- you still got to protect it right a generator either through solar with batteries.  There is different ways you can you can set up a micro grid, but you still got to distribute it and get it from point A to point B.

 

[00:21:59]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.

 

 

 

[00:22:00]

Carlos Torres:  And you got you got to harden the system, you got make it resilient that’s going to be able to withstand even you know as part of my flyover there were wind generators, there were solar panels, solar arrays throughout the island that were decimated through the hurricane.

 

[00:22:16]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.

 

[00:22:17]

Carlos Torres:  So if you get hit with another hurricane, that renewal power is going to get impacted, so how fast can you get that backup and running.

 

[00:22:24]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.

 

[00:22:25]

Bill Loveless:  I mean you still got to get -- again that solar ray gets it to from there it’s got to get out to the customer.  So there is all those things that need to be addressed on how best and I think it’s going to be a different it’s going to be a tool box and you have different methods of how you’re going to get that.  There are -- even those last remaining you know one percent of the customers when I left that island we could have looked at different ways like micro grids to get the power to them quicker without having to rebuild because some of these customers were up in the mountains in the roughest terrain where you would have put in let’s say 20 to 50 poles to get one customer back.

 

[00:23:04]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.

 

[00:23:05]

Carlos Torres:  What about if you gave them a solar array with batteries and that aims sufficient power to sustain themselves for a while until you build the system.

 

[00:23:14]

Bill Loveless:  Would you testify to think and on the for the house committee you talked a little about grid hardening and but you know, there is so much talks these days of the smart grid and how it can make it much more -- the grid much more efficient and much more resilient in some ways.  I think you would make a good point as no matter what you do in terms of the generation you still need the wires --

 

 

[00:23:39]

Carlos Torres:  Yes.

 

[00:23:39]

Bill Loveless:  to get to deliver the power, but then Puerto Rico there hadn’t been much of any of these new technology to begin, where there is nothing in the way of smart meters or grid hardening or those sort of things.

 

[00:23:50]

Carlos Torres:  Yeah they had meters which are just you have to they’re drived by metering that you can drive by and take meter readings.  But part of the -- the looking into the future you know and these are the programs following the restoration of the customers, FEMA is working with PREPA to kind of -- and I guess this it’s called core 3 it’s part of the Puerto Rico it’s the center of the recovery reconstruction and resiliency and their mission is to build back the infrastructure for all of Puerto Rico and they’re going to look at those kind of -- those kind of mechanism of the smart grid, they were looking at putting a demonstration model on Vieques of rebuilding into a standard voltage, and putting some smart grid technology out they are putting some renewal to kind of use it as a test case.

 

[00:24:41]

Bill Loveless:  That’s an island off Puerto Rico --

 

[00:24:42]

Carlos Torres:  It’s an island of Puerto Rico and they were going to feed both Vieques and Culebra because there is a -- transmission feeder that runs across between the main island to Vieques and from Vieques to Culebra.  So they were to set up this -- this demonstration model to feed both islands and then even considering putting a line that takes it to -- to the U.S. Virgin Islands because Culebra maybe about 18 to 20 miles away from the -- I forgot which island I think it’s St. John 20 miles from St. John’s and they can build a transmission line that goes out to St. John’s and supplies power too.  So they’re looking at those kind of possibilities of -- of building new technology into this demonstration model that can be then taken over to the main island and expand it.

 

[00:25:31]

Bill Loveless:  It’s a great thing Carlos in terms of public policy that might help here.  And here we’re probably talking resilience against a lot of them talking Washington more resilience generally that means to a lot of different people you know lot of discussions about what we’re building keeping all nuclear power and old coal power plants online, but resilience takes in more many forms.  Do you think having lived through this recovery this and it’s from the awful storm in Puerto Rico that there is anything in terms of public policy that should be considered in Washington or perhaps on a regional level on the state or place like Puerto Rico to help prepare for these disasters and hardened systems?

 

[00:26:12]

Carlos Torres:  Yeah, I think the you know especially for you know, a system like PREPA being a state run common wealth run system and I guess they are looking to privatize.

 

[00:26:28]

Bill Loveless:  Right.

 

[00:26:29

Carlos Torres:  And they are going to privatize I think immediately their generation and I don’t know what that brings.  But then they got to they’re seriously looking at a concession model for the transmission distribution system of PREPA which is similar to what LIPA Long Island Power Authority has with the Public Service Electric and Gas Long Island being that concession model to operate the system.  There is again pros and cons they got to pay down their debt.

 

[00:27:02]

Bill Loveless:  Right.

 

[00:27:03]

Carlos Torres:  And you know they’re looking at this paying down the debt part of it is selling off the generation.  I don’t know if they’re going to get those nine billion dollars from that I am not that’s not my expertise so I want to speak to that.  But they got to be able to pay down that debt, but then they’re got to look at what kind of savings they’re going to get from operating through these concession model because they are costly power --

 

[00:27:26]

Bill Loveless:  Right.

 

[00:27:27]

Carlos Torres:  of Puerto Rico.  They are -- I thought you know, Hawaii was expensive Puerto Rico is much more expensive than -- than many of the main land you know even New York or the big cities --

 

[00:27:38]

Bill Loveless:  What was their main source of generation capacity in Puerto Rico?

 

[00:27:41]

Carlos Torres:  It’s all fossil powered ____ [00:27:43] you know oil so it’s number six fuel oil.

 

[00:27:47]

Bill Loveless:  That has to be shipped in?

 

[00:27:48]

Carlos Torres:  That has to be bought in and we will continue they do have coal they also have LNG in one of their power plants.  So that the thoughts are maybe leverage LNG more on the island --

 

[00:28:03]

Bill Loveless:  If you can find the ships too.

 

[00:28:05]:  If you can bring the ship and you could pass those laws that allow you to bring sufficient amounts of you know which is down in the southern part of the island where it’s less populated, but if some other generation is up in the San Juan area maybe build an -- an LNG I don’t know if they can do an off shore you know this is Carlos Torres is thinking of the top of his head.

 

[00:28:23]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.

 

[00:28:24]

Carlos Torres:  But some mechanism of bringing gas -- natural gas into the island because they don’t have pipelines on the island --

 

[00:28:33]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah, yeah.

 

[00:28:34]

Carlos Torres:  right so everything is electric that’s about it --

 

[00:28:36]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.

 

[00:28:37]

Carlos Torres:  and they have propane.

 

[00:28:38]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.  This used to be a lot of reasons to -- to get them off bunk a fuel off oil to generate electricity.

 

[00:28:44]

Carlos Torres:  Yeah.  And I know the governor has really put a big push through the core 3 to bring in a lot of renewals.  So I think you need that mix of and maybe they can work you know that’s were the policy makers can really do some work and trying to make those policies more favorable subsidies or -- or tax incentives for the renewal power.  They have quite a number of wind generation on the island and they do have some solar, but they -- I know that’s only dropping the --

 

[00:29:14]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.  I saw a statistics that said four percent of Puerto Rico the Puerto Rico’s generating capacities renewal energy --

 

[00:29:22]

Carlos Torres:  You know they’re looking for 30% and they were looking at 30% at least.

 

[00:29:26]

Bill Loveless:  Really compares to an average of 15 1-5 15% of the United States as a whole, so but again those are sorts of policies I guess subsidies or whatever that would likely occur at the Puerto Rico level right.

 

[00:29:38]

Carlos Torres:  Well it could be -- it could be at the federal level and could be at the common wealth level.

 

 [00:29:44]

Bill Loveless:  So you think there is something we’re sitting in Washington as we discuss this right now at the Edison Electric Institute offices.  I mean do you think there is something for -- for policy makers in Washington to be thinking about here?

 

[00:29:58]

Carlos Torres:  I think they are thinking about it.  I think that they just got to find a means of how to get to that.  I think that they got to work together.

 

[00:30:06]

Bill Loveless:  Solving the Puerto Rico’s resiliency?

 

[00:30:06]

Carlos Torres:  Yeah, I think it’s got to be more collaborative on both sides --

 

[00:30:09]

Bill Loveless:  Washington and the Common Wealth?

 

[00:30:11]

Carlos Torres:  And the Common Wealth you know there is been kind of push back -- back and forth, but I think they got to come together and they got to work this out.  So I am hopeful that and you know very much wishing that Puerto Rico gets out of this -- this whole right they had to deal with Irma and Maria.

 

[00:30:38]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.

 

[00:30:39]

Carlos Torres:  And now this you know, energy crisis that they’re going to deal within and you know having gone through the post Sandy and ____ [00:30:37] in New York it could happen right.  Again I was in a -- in an IOU where we went to a rate case to get the money’s to rebuild after Sandy.  Here it’s a little bit of a different situation, but you know they got to find a way to build a resiliency into the system because hurricanes are not going to stop coming.

 

[00:31:02]

Bill Loveless:  Right.

 

[00:31:03]

Carlos Torres:  Right flood waters are not going to step coming.

 

[00:31:06]

Bill Loveless:  But we’re in another hurricane season now again based on this most recent experience of yours how do you feel about the resiliency of -- of the grid in phase of the storm some many say climate is exacerbating the situation.  I don’t know how you what you think of it, but you know, is it of greater concern now that maybe than it was when you first got into this line of work some years ago?

 

[00:31:39]

Carlos Torres:  I think climate change exist because we’ve seen drastic changes in all every type of climate in the world.  And I think we have to prepare and we’ve been when I was at Con Ed I was working with the federal, state, and city on a lot of initiative around climate change.  And I think that the whole world has to prepare for the change and you know, we don’t nobody else’s --

 

 

[00:32:04]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.

 

[00:32:05]

Carlos Torres:  and we’re going to see the impacts of this and it’s not going to get any better.  And you know, it’s going to be it’s going to be hotter, --

 

[00:32:12]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.

 

[00:32:13]

Carlos Torres:  it’s going to be sea level rise, it’s going to be more severe storms because of these of systems so we have to prepare and you have to build a system to be able to withstand that.

 

[00:32:24]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.  Our utility is doing enough do you think?

 

[00:32:28]

Carlos Torres:  I think that they are doing whatever they can within the limits of you know right pay or through the regulators.  Can we do more absolutely it would be great if we get more subsidies through the federal government to build that.  I think that we are working on trying to build more cost effective ways of doing it.  And actually in Con Ed we’ve seen the benefits of storm hardening even for a smaller even where we’ve reduced the number of outages that we had.  And I mean it was it’s unbelievable to see that when you harden a system that you see the benefits of it if you go back with you know in Florida Power and Light you saw that when they went back with concrete poles less impact on poles it’s easier to put a wire up there than a pole back up.

 

[00:33:08]

Bill Loveless:  In the case of Sandy there was more simply installing the equipment underground right was that the --

 

[00:33:14]

Carlos Torres:  That’s not those ultimate solutions because there is an unintended consequence for bearing equipment right.  It takes longer to locate a fault where in you know, now you’re dealing with the customer and you’re not going to restore power as quickly and having worked in the underground system in Con Ed it’s not easy to find a fault.  We found different technologies to help us expedite that which helps out, but you know the overhead system you’re not going to get rid of the overhead system.

 

[00:33:43]

Bill Loveless:  Right.

 

[00:33:44]

Carlos Torres:  But you know, you could under ground, but it is more expensive to under ground so it is --

 

[00:33:48]

Bill Loveless:  But do you think new technology can play a role here in terms of new smart technology --

 

[00:33:51]

Carlos Torres:  Oh, absolutely.  In Con Ed we were using that and many utilities are using that technology to -- to manage the outages making the outages smaller using more switches, more fusing, undergrounding where it makes sense, --

 

[00:34:09]

Bill Loveless:  More smart metering right?

 

[00:34:10]

Carlos Torres:  Smart -- smart metering is information right and the ability to isolate remotely the new technology now this allows you to isolate remotely.  So if you see there is going to be a problem and you can isolate remotely that’s great where now you don’t have to take larger amount of customers out, but just having the information of who’s out not waiting for people to core you.  Anyway I dealt with it with storms people wouldn’t call because everybody things the other person is calling.

 

[00:34:36]

Bill Loveless:  Right, right.

 

[00:34:37]

Carlos Torres:  So --

 

[00:34:38]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah, it’s just there is so much going on and again with these storms just make us think about smart grids and resiliency and still different ways, but it sounds like you learned a lot you’ve learned a lot _____ [00:34:53] boy you learned a lot in this last most recent episode.

 

 

[00:34:56]

Carlos Torres:  I made a lot of good friends a lot learned a lot about dealing with events like this and in the future.  Hope they never have to do this again --

 

[00:35:07]

Bill Loveless:  Yeah.

 

[00:35:08]

Carlos Torres:  But if I do, I think that there were a lot of learnings.  I think I walked out of there much better person, more appreciative of what I have in life and I really feel for the people of Puerto Rico because they deserve a lot better than what they had been handed and -- and I think it’s getting their way it’s just going to take some time.

 

[00:35:28]

Bill Loveless:  But hopefully they won’t have to experience that again.  Carlos Torres, thank you very much for joining us on the Columbia Energy exchange.

 

[00:35:34]

Carlos Torres:  Thank you very much.

 

[00:35:36]

Bill Loveless:  And thanks to our listeners too as always if you have a minute take a minute to give us a rating on iTunes or your favorite podcast platform.  It helps us spread the word and stay in touch with the center on global energy policy on social media at columbiauenergy or on web at energypolicy.columbia.edu.  For the Columbia Energy Exchange, I am Bill Loveless we’ll be back again next week with another conversation.