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Helping to Restore Power to Puerto Rico

Keep up as the story unfolds right here

By: | March 13, 2018 11:14 am

March 27, 2018

Xcel Energy CEO Ben Fowke visits workers on the island

Thousands of Puerto Ricans have had their electricity turned back on thanks to Xcel Energy crews, some of whom are into the company’s third and final three-week deployment to the island to help with power restoration. More than 200 Xcel Energy workers have played a role in this effort since Jan. 29.

Ben Fowke, CEO of Xcel Energy, and Larry Crosby, senior vice president 0f distribution, visited with workers this week to thank them for all they’ve done and to see the progress first hand.

“We are so proud of the work of our crews and we want to thank them for their outstanding efforts,” said Fowke. “This has been a historic undertaking, unlike any other previous restoration effort. The workers have done a great job. Their dedication and determination in Puerto Rico demonstrate once again, that we have the best line workers in the business.”

“Our crews have energized large numbers of customers daily, while doing it safely in challenging, rugged conditions,” said Crosby. “They’ve been working 16-hour days restoring power to homes, schools, churches and businesses, and their commitment to restoring power has never wavered. I know they’re going to finish this mission strong.”

Xcel Energy crews continue working in Caguas, a mountainous and remote region in the southeast area of the island. This is also the toughest area of the island to work because of the rugged terrain, narrow roads and overgrown vegetation. The crews are working with incident management teams that have partnered with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority on restoration efforts.

Overall, more than 93 percent of Puerto Rican customers have had their power restored.

 

Update on March 16, 2018

A third wave of Xcel Energy workers landed in Puerto Rico on Monday to continue power restoration efforts on the island.

More than 70 employees from the Upper Midwest, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico arrived in Puerto Rico on March 12 for a three-week operation. The same day, the second wave of crews returned home from their deployment that began mid-February.

While not part of the original plan, Xcel Energy decided last month to send more crews to Puerto Rico to help restoration efforts that began in earnest on Jan. 29. All told, more than 200 Xcel Energy employees will have played a role in restoring power on the island.

Xcel Energy crews continue to work in Caguas, a mountainous and remote region in the southeast area of the island. This is where the storm came inland, and the damage is significant.

This is also the toughest area of the island to work because of the rugged terrain, narrow roads and overgrown vegetation. The crews are working with incident management teams that have partnered with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority on restoration efforts.

Even in rugged conditions, with high temperatures and humidity, spirits remain high. Workers are overwhelmed by the gratitude they receive from the people in the forms of hugs, cards, music and home-cooked meals. Xcel Energy crews have been able to turn the electricity back on for thousands of customers including homes, schools and community centers.

Overall, more than 1.3 million Puerto Rican customers, 90 percent of the island, have had their power restored. About 140,000 customers still remain without power nearly six months after Hurricane Maria caused tremendous damage to the island’s homes, businesses, infrastructure and electrical grid.

UPDATE: March 8, 2018 9:02 am

Start ‘em young, that’s what Xcel Energy Lineworkers say. Our crews have been welcomed into the Caguas family as power restoration efforts continue on the island.

We’re extremely proud of all of our Lineworkers, but there are some that just naturally rise to the top with their “animal whisperer’ skills.

Just a little more to the left… Despite the mountainous terrain, our crews continue making progress restoring power in Caguas.

Crews are treated to Sancocho, a traditional Puerto Rican meat stew, along with a homemade Xcel Energy logo cake and music. The outpouring of friendship the community has shown our team is nothing short of inspirational.

Many areas of Caguas aren’t reachable by bucket truck, so our line crews trek out and do some pole climbing.

Working 16 hour days becomes more meaningful after receiving a heartfelt thank you letter like this from a local family.

 

UPDATE: March 7, 2018

Media coverage celebrates Puerto Rico homecomings

From Minneapolis to Amarillo, radio, TV stations and newspapers covered the return of the first wave of Xcel Energy workers who deployed to Puerto Rico. The stories highlight employees’ hard work, and the tough conditions that Puerto Ricans have endured since Hurricane Maria struck five months ago.
The positive coverage across Xcel Energy’s eight-state service area shows how employees deliver, not only to the communities we serve, but to people in need, thousands of miles away.

Journeyman lineman Brandon Carroll of Littlefield, Texas, told Texas Public Radio that rough terrain, narrow roads and lush vegetation in the mountainous region of Caguas, P.R., posed challenges to crews accustomed to the high plains of West Texas.

In the months since Hurricane Maria, “The vines and the jungle had overgrown everything that blew down,” Carroll said. “That was a challenge, trying to figure out which way it was supposed to go, and what fed what. You would have some spans going across the valley through the jungle that might be 1,500 feet long, and have to pull the cable out of the jungle, hack it out and put it back up.”

When family and coworkers turned out to greet returning Xcel Energy workers, reporters from Amarillo stations, including NBC affiliate KAMR-TV, were at the airport. Line foreman Delwin Britton told the Amarillo Globe-News that “It was amazing, the look on the locals’ faces” when Xcel Energy trucks rolled into their towns. “I feel it’s my job if someone needs help,” he said.

Operations manager Lee Nordby told KSTP-TV, the ABC affiliate in Minneapolis, that he felt humbled by the spirit and generosity of the people he met, “what they had to go through, how they reached out to one another” and to Xcel Energy crews with thanks and hospitality.

The second wave of Xcel Energy workers arrived in Puerto Rico at the end of February, and a third 21-day wave is also planned.

 

UPDATE: February 28, 2018

More help has arrived in Puerto Rico, more coming next month

Second wave of linemen in Puerto Rico this week; first wave is home, additional crews arriving in March

A fresh wave of Xcel Energy workers landed in Puerto Rico this week to continue power restoration efforts, but they won’t be the last to make their way to the island. Xcel Energy has decided to send additional crews to Puerto Rico next month.

Nearly 70 employees from the Upper Midwest, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico arrived in Puerto Rico Feb. 19 for a three week operation, the same day the first wave of crews returned home from their deployment that began Jan. 29. While not part of the original plan, Xcel Energy will now send a third wave of crews to Puerto Rico to help with the restoration efforts. Those crews are expected to arrive March 12. All told, more than 200 Xcel Energy employees will play a role in restoring power on the island by the time the third wave is complete.

Xcel Energy crews are working in Caguas, a mountainous and remote region in the southeast area of the island. This is where the storm came inland and the damage is significant. The crews are working with incident management teams that have partnered with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) on restoration efforts.

Last week, Bob Frenzel, chief financial officer, and Kent Larson, group president, operations, traveled to Puerto Rico to see the restoration progress first-hand. They met with PREPA in San Juan and toured the island by helicopter to survey some of the damage and restored infrastructure. They also met with Xcel Energy crews in the field to understand the challenges the crews are dealing with and thank them for all their hard work.

Crews have had no injuries or equipment issues reported. Spirits remain high as workers are continuously receiving gratitude from the people of Puerto Rico. So far, more than 2,000 Puerto Rican customers have had their electricity turned back on thanks to the work of Xcel Energy.

Overall, more than 1.2 million Puerto Rican customers, 84 percent of the island, have had their power restored. Hundreds of thousands still remain without power five months after Hurricane Maria caused tremendous damage to the island’s homes, businesses, infrastructure and electrical grid.

UPDATE: February 20, 2018

Today 72 Xcel Energy employees helping restore power in Puerto Rico returned home to their families. They’ve faced challenging conditions and remote locales over the past three weeks, and we thank them for their hard work done with pride. Safe travels to our second crew, departing for the island today!

UPDATE: February 13, 2018

Nearly 2,000 Puerto Rican customers have had their electricity turned back on thanks to Xcel Energy crews.

Workers from the Upper Midwest, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico have been on the island since Jan. 29 and are continuing their efforts to restore power to the island. These crews have one more week of work before the second wave replaces them on February 19. Crews are working hard and have no injuries or equipment issues reported.

Last week, Xcel Energy linemen from Colorado spent a few days working to restore power to Escuela Rexford Guy Tugwell, a Montessori school located in Cayey. Crews, students, and teachers celebrated power restoration Thursday, Feb. 8, and students are now able to have full school days for the first time since Hurricane Maria hit the island.

Company leaders Bob Frenzel, chief financial officer, and Kent Larson, executive vice president and group president, operations, are also in Puerto Rico this week thanking workers for all they’ve done and to see the progress first hand. More will be shared about their visit in an XpressNet story later this week.

Spirits are still high among the crews as they are continuously receiving gratitude from the people of Puerto Rico.

More than 1 million Puerto Rican customers, 75 percent of the island, have had their power restored. Hundreds of thousands still remain without power more than four months after Hurricane Maria caused tremendous damage to the island’s homes, businesses, infrastructure and electrical grid.

UPDATE: February 6, 2018

Xcel Energy’s crews are on the ground in working in the Cayey and Cidra regions in the southeast part of Puerto Rico and have been restoring power to the island’s grateful residents.

They spent the first day going through extensive safety training to be prepared to travel on the narrow roads and deal with the abundant vegetation. They also stocked their trucks in preparation for the humid, 80-degree days.

The upper Midwest crews have been working along a very narrow road. They have collaborated with local police to reduce roads to one lane of traffic to safely do their work, and have enjoyed a warm welcome by the local residents. They have encountered steep ravines and one new pole location had to be hand dug. They have spent many days on one line, restoring power to more than 45 customers.

Our Texas and New Mexico crews have been able to restore power to more than 300 customers in the mountain community of Cidra. They have worked on setting and straightening the feeder as well as taps and services. Their biggest challenges have been the terrain and lack of access.

Our Colorado crews are working in Cayey, which was hit by the eye of Hurricane Maria. They have been working on narrow roads at grade and are getting ready to energize sections of the line they have been working on for several days.

Local residents have been happy to see crews in the area and have expressed their gratitude as power has been restored.

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Media Coverage

Xcel sending crews to Puerto Rico to help with ongoing power restoration efforts Chippewa Herald – 2/4/2018

Xcel Energy, which serves part of the Vail Valley, sending crews to Puerto Rico Vail Daily – 2/3/2018

Xcel Energy crews depart for Puerto Rico to help with ongoing power restoration efforts Red Wing Republican Eagle – 2/2/2018

Xcel Energy workers restore power to over 70 Puerto Ricans NewsChannel 10 – 2/2/2018

Xcel Energy crews make progress in first week of Puerto Rico restoration effort Myhighplains.com – 2/2/2018

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UPDATE: January 29, 2018

After weeks of preparation, approximately 70 Xcel Energy employees are calling Caguas – a mountainous and remote region in the southeast part of Puerto Rico – home for the next three weeks. Their mission: restoring power to some of the island’s 3.4 million residents.

“The crews’ spirits are high,” said Luke Oberle, director, Southeast Minnesota and South Dakota, Design and Construction, prior to the employees’Jan. 29 deployment. “They are excited to get down to Puerto Rico and begin restoring power for people who have not had power for four months.

“In total, we’ll have crews there for six weeks. All employees will work 16 hours a day for three weeks and then be switched out with fresh employees. We’ll be providing mutual aid for a total of six weeks.”

While the weather may be nicer there than Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota’s current weather – where 25 of the employees are coming from – Xcel Energy’s employees are in store for many challenges.

“The roadways are very narrow, and it is going to be very difficult for our line trucks to navigate them,” Oberle said. “We’ll pair up multiple crews if needed.  Also, security teams are in place from Puerto Rico who will provide assistance including traffic control if needed.”

“We also have an employee – Carlos Figueroa, from our Minnesota Metro West division – who is a nativefrom that region of Puerto Rico – he will be able to act as a translator and navigator for us.”

Additionally, the soil is mainly going to have a gravelconsistency but will vary from sand to rock – somewhat different from what is here on the mainland. But Oberle says the equipment that was sent by barge will be able to handle it.

“We will have two safety consultants throughout our deployment with us who will perform crew observations and assist with safety concerns.  We expect all employees to follow all company safety rules, policies and procedures to keep everyone safe.”

In addition to those 25 upper Midwest employees, 30 employees from Colorado, 13 employees from Texas, and three employees from New Mexico also made up the first round of deployees.

All employees received recommended immunizations from the company’s chief medical officer which is consistent with the Centers for Disease Control at least two weeks before deploying. Xcel Energy has confirmed there will be functioning and staffed medical facilities in the area where the crews will be working.

Despite the devastation to the island, Xcel Energy was able to secure safe accommodations on the island for employees to be housed during their deployment along with food, laundry, water, fuel and ice.

In preparation to provide aid, Xcel Energy sent 65 pieces of equipment from Minnesota, Colorado and Texas – which included line trucks, pickups, diggers and trailers – at the beginning of January to Lake Charles, LA. They were loaded on the Ulysses – a barge that transported it to Puerto Rico.

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UPDATE: January 23, 2018

Xcel Energy trucks made landfall and crews are soon to follow! We’ve joined the Puerto Rico power restoration effort, and our thoughts for safe work and fair weather are with you all.

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January 10, 2018

Xcel Energy is answering the call for mutual aid from Puerto Rico by sending 65 workers to the island at the end of January.

“We’re proud to be part of more than 5,500 workers nation-wide focused on restoring power to Puerto Rico,” said Kent Larson, executive vice president and group president, Operations. “We have some of the best line workers in the nation, and we’re honored to play a role in helping our neighbors – and fellow citizens – even if they live more than 2,400 miles away and across a body of water.

Xcel Energy is expected to be working in Caguas, a mountainous and remote region in the southeast region of the island where the storm came ashore and the damage is significant. Company safety personnel will be traveling with the crews and providing daily safety training and updates to deal with the unfamiliar terrain and conditions.

The company is sending about 50 line workers – from the Upper Midwest, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico – along with management, support, safety and fleet staff. They will be flying to the island after company trucks and equipment were sent by barge at the beginning of the month. Xcel Energy’s support is expected to last six weeks with the first wave of workers working three weeks and a second wave relieving them for the last three weeks of the mission.

“Our crews want to do this – they’re passionate about their work and eager to do the job,” Larson said.

Xcel Energy received a request for assistance on Dec. 16, 2017, and is one of more than 20 electric companies committed to accelerating ongoing power restoration efforts after Hurricane Maria hit the island in September 2017. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) is working with member of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on damage assessment and a coordinated restoration plan.

“We know if we were affected by a natural disaster, other energy companies would help us.”

In preparation to provide aid, Xcel Energy sent 65 pieces of equipment from Minnesota, Colorado and Texas – which included line trucks, pickups, diggers and trailers – at the beginning of January to Lake Charles, Louisiana. They were loaded on the Ulysses – a barge that is transporting them to Puerto Rico – on January 7, and left port on its way to the island on January 9.

So far, PREPA says it has restored power to 55 percent of customers on the island. The hurricane caused significant damage to Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, and the damage is coupled with geographic challenges. Much of the country’s transmission network is in rugged, mountainous terrain with little or no road access.

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Author's Note

See more amazing photos on our Instagram page, @xcelenergy

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