Three months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, more than 40 percent of residents are still in the dark. Thousands of power restoration workers from U.S. energy companies are answering the island’s need for assistance, including about 35 We Energies and 25 Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) employees. The two companies will work together to respond to the widespread loss of power in Puerto Rico. They depart for an estimated six-week assignment in the San Juan area this Saturday, Jan. 13, from General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee.
Supervisors from We Energies and WPS already have made the trip to the island and are preparing for crews to arrive. Vehicles and equipment from both companies were sent by barge earlier this month. Crews plan to work 12- to 16-hour days restoring power to the island.
While they face uncertainty, unfamiliar conditions and terrain, and devastation of infrastructure like they’ve never seen, the employees are excited to answer the call to service.
|We Energies and WPS supervisors departed for Puerto Rico from Milwaukee on Jan. 9.|
“An opportunity like this – to go to an island and help restore power – has never come up before,” said Craig Kahoun, operations manager – WPS, in an interview with a Green Bay news station.
While crews from We Energies and WPS responded to Hurricane Irma in Florida and Georgia last year and to other hurricanes in years past, this is the first time the companies have performed restoration efforts outside of the continental U.S.
Peter Klafka, operations supervisor – We Energies, was interviewed by a Milwaukee news station and highlighted the importance of safety while on this trip. “There’re going to be a lot of hazardous conditions we’re going to encounter down there. The crews’ safety is the most important and the biggest challenge we’re going to have to face,” he said.
“Everything we’ll work on there – it’s devastated,” Kahoun said. “So we’re going to have a lot of reconstruction.” The hurricane caused extensive damage to electric infrastructure in Puerto Rico. Additionally, accessing areas in need of restoration is further complicated by the island’s narrow streets and rugged terrain.
The crews are willing to take on all of these challenges. Chris Vanlaarhoven, a We Energies lead line mechanic in Iron Mountain, is ready to start improving conditions for the people of Puerto Rico: “It’s a good feeling on our part, and I’m sure the people will be very happy down there once we turn the power back on for them.”