The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has chosen six contractors to compete for contracts worth up to $5 billion aimed at stabilizing Puerto Rico's power system. This decision comes in the wake of several storms and an earthquake over recent years that have left the power grid in Puerto Rico in a precarious state.
These multiple award task order contracts, granted by USACE, Savannah District, span a five-year ordering period. The primary objective of these contracts is to provide temporary power augmentation and address related issues with power generation facilities, as outlined by USACE. At an industry event earlier this year, officials stated that the contractors' task would involve enabling the generation of 350 MW to 700 MW at various locations across Puerto Rico.
The anticipated scope of work encompasses supplying equipment such as dual-fuel generators capable of running on natural gas or diesel, the installation of said equipment, and its operation for periods estimated to range from six to 18 months, according to USACE solicitation documents. Task orders may also entail the repair and replacement of components within existing transmission and distribution facilities. Close coordination with the public Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and utility company LUMA Energy will be a crucial aspect of the contractors' responsibilities.
The selected firms include Amentum Services; AshBritt; CDM Constructors; OMP Solutions; PTSI Managed Services; and Weston Solutions, as confirmed by the U.S. Dept. of Defense contract award notice.
USACE intends to employ hybrid firm-fixed price task orders that incorporate elements of cost-plus fixed fees to account for fluctuations in fuel prices. The solicitation emphasizes that fuel costs pose the highest risk for this work, given the historical volatility of the petroleum market.
In response to last year's Hurricane Fiona, which temporarily plunged the island into darkness, the Biden administration established the Puerto Rico Power System Stabilization Task Force. This task force, consisting of USACE, FEMA, Department of Energy, and Environmental Protection Agency, has prioritized initiatives to add 150 MW in temporary power generation units at the Palo Seco Power Plant and another 200 MW of temporary generation at different facilities, according to the White House.
President Joe Biden underlined the importance of this effort, stating, "We know that the climate crisis and more extreme weather are going to continue to hit this island and hit the United States overall, and as we rebuild, we have to ensure that we build it to last. We're particularly focused on the power grid."
In light of the tragic Hawaii wildfires that swept through the town of Lāhainā, Hawaii, on Aug. 8, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers joined the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies in responding to calls for assistance.
As soon as Aug. 11, a USACE Planning and Response Team – or Temporary Emergency Power Team – landed on the island and began work in conjunction with FEMA and Maui County, and state officials. Their mission – position generators across the hard hit region and getting electricity flowing to the communities and to restart the wells that provide water throughout the area.
The 15-member team, made up entirely of USACE volunteers, set up shop on a windswept dirt and asphalt field near the Maui Raceway Park and immediately went to work. Maintaining a night and day shift, the team pushed to get the generators up and running as soon as possible, and by Aug. 21, had completed 17 of 18 generator installations.
The power team recently had another important task added to their to-do list. On Aug. 21, President Joe Biden visited Lāhainā to meet with affected citizens and leaders to assure them that support would continue.
“The PRT was responsible for providing and maintaining power during President Biden’s visit to the community,” said Dominic Basile, temporary emergency power national manager for. “It was critical to ensure the generator continued to operate and maintain electricity for everything from lighting at the civic center, to metal detectors and computers used by the Secret Service.”
And the team’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. Following Biden’s visit, the White House Communications Agency presented the team with a certificate of appreciation.
It reads in part, “The member of the White House Communications Agency wish to express our sincere appreciation for the outstanding manner in which you provided support to the President of the United States … Your efforts, coupled with your superb attitude and impeccable professionalism, enabled us to provide critical communications for the President, the White House Staff and the United States Secret Service.”
Madeline Martinez, planning and response team mission manager, said that this group of USACE professionals is the only team to have ever received this award. But as team leader, she was quick to defer praise.
“It’s all the team,” said Martinez. “This group of volunteers – they are all excellent at their jobs. I couldn’t do any of this without each of them.”
When the sun sets below the Pacific Ocean, the workday is less than halfway complete for Jon Runnels and Kenny Kwan. The pair are quality assurance representatives deployed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Temporary Emergency Power Team on Maui.
“We’re providing quality assurance; we're also providing government presence on site, and we’ll go around while contractors are working, which is one of our requirements,” said Runnels, who was born and raised in Mississippi. “So, we also do spot checks, which is what the quality assurance part is. We're just making sure that everything is going fine, and that we don't have any generators that go down. So that's the main point of Temporary Power - keep the power going.”
Kwan, is a project manager and Runnels is a civil engineer. Both are assigned to the Honolulu District. Both live on O‘ahu, and both are engineers but they never met until Aug. 16 when they arrived in Maui as part of the federal emergency response to the Hawaii Wildfires.
“We work in the same district, but I've never met him,” said Kwan, who grew up in Honolulu. “But it's good. It brings people with common cause together, right. We're here volunteering for the same reason: we want to help people, and that’s one of the joys of the Power Team.”
In response to the Hawai‘i Wildfires, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deployed the Power Team under a Federal Emergency Management Agency Mission Assignment.
The team consists of USACE personnel trained to oversee operations of FEMA generators that provide power to critical facilities like municipal buildings, critical care facilities and water pump stations.
The Power Team installed the first generator Aug. 14, and it was at a water pump station.
“At this time of need we’re supplying generators at you know important places such as water wells and municipal buildings that need power to run. People need water everywhere, right so their access to water can continue.”
Working late into the night, the pair travel to generator sites, the day shift can’t get to before their shift is complete. These locations are often far from any town.
Some sites are so remote and devoid of light that Runnels and Kwan use the headlights of their vehicle and flashlights on their phones to complete the QA process but by working in the dark, the pair help keep the lights on and water flowing for first responders and those in need.