SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District proudly announced the successful completion of a temporary power mission project in San Juan, Puerto Rico. This Federal Emergency Management Agency led initiative aimed at restoring and improving electrical infrastructure in the region. This marks a significant step forward in the ongoing efforts to enhance the local power grid’s resilience and reliability in the wake of Hurricanes Maria in 2017 and Fiona in 2022.
Fiona left thousands of residents without power for weeks and Maria resulted in not only the biggest, but the longest blackout in U.S. history, with hundreds of thousands of residents without power for more than 100 days total.
The temporary power mission included the installation of 16 temporary power generation systems at two antiquated powerplants located in the city of San Juan. The Palo Seco and San Juan powerplants, constructed in 1959 and 1964, have faced major stabilization issues since their erection. The instability was caused by a combination of factors, including outdated infrastructure, insufficient maintenance, extreme weather and natural disasters. Additionally, limited investment in grid maintenance and a history of financial instability within the island's power authority have hindered necessary upgrades and repairs.
Along with FEMA, the Omaha District worked together with the Jacksonville District Antilles Office, Baltimore District, and Savannah District to ensure mission success.
“Partnership has been essential to the success of this project. We leveraged resources and expertise from throughout the Enterprise,” said Jeff Schwindaman, Chief, Civil Works Programs & Project Management Branch at the Savannah District. “The specialties and skills of this diverse team are what allowed us to quickly overcome all obstacles that we encountered. The size and priority of this mission would have overwhelmed any one District, but together we were able to deliver for the Nation.”
The Omaha District’s efforts were spearheaded by the Special Projects Rapid Response Technical Center of Expertise, led by program manager Tim Gouger.
“Rapid response was authorized over three decades ago to provide time sensitive execution for infrastructure repairs,” said Gouger. “We were called upon in this instance because of our expertise in time sensitive execution for a cost reimbursable risk management model and were here as an integrated project delivery team to accomplish that goal.”
Established in 1989 and executing more than 750 time-critical responses across the globe, the Special Projects Rapid Response team provides time-critical response and project execution, rapid response project initiation for transition to a host district for final execution, cost-reimbursable contract management training, cost-reimbursable contract oversight assistance, on-site support within 72-hours of receipt of funding, and on-site support to USACE and other federal agencies.
"This power mission is different, but not completely unfamiliar due to all the agencies involved, much like we did back in 2017 with the last big hurricane,” said Anthony Kearney, a construction office representative with the Omaha District rapid response program. “We were brought here due to the expedited timetable to get this done, which is exactly what the Omaha District Rapid Response Program does.”
This emergency response project aligns with the Omaha District's broader mission to strengthen the Nation's infrastructure and plays a critical role in bolstering disaster response capabilities across the United States and its territories through comprehensive planning, engineering and contracting capabilities.
“USACE was brought into this to support FEMA,” said Capt. Kerry Horan, a project engineer with the USACE Baltimore District. “Last fall, the governor of Puerto Rico requested support from the federal government. Assessments were made in fall and winter of 2022, and we were on site executing the mission by January 2022. It’s so impressive the way that USACE can bring experts anywhere, almost overnight across the globe, and accomplish the mission.”
The Palo Seco powerplant is currently generating an average of 153 megawatts per day and the Savannah District is poised to transition operations and maintenance of the plant to Puerto Rico authorities in December of 2023. The San Juan power plant was commissioned Sept. 27, 2023, generates 200 megawatts per day, and is poised to transition operations and maintenance in March of 2024.
“The power that we are generating is very sorely needed by the people of Puerto Rico,” Horan added. “Everyone involved, from the federal, state, or local level, has worked towards this very aggressively. We are all very proud to be able to deliver this mission.”
This 1.074 billion dollar project, while providing immediate relief, is also seen as a steppingstone in Puerto Rico's journey towards a more reliable and resilient power grid, acknowledging the importance of preparedness and long-term sustainability. This collaborative effort between many USACE Districts, Federal organizations, and local stake holders highlights the dedication of our Nation to rebuild and safeguard Puerto Rico's power infrastructure and build toward a more resilient future.
To learn more about the District’s Mandatory and Technical Centers of Expertise, visit: https://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/About/Centers-of-Expertise/