Puerto Rico’s electric grid, still loosely held together by the temporary fixes made after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017, is set to see the beginnings of a multi-billion rebuild and modernization this year, helped, in part, by the naming of Burns & McDonnell as program manager to support the grid rebuilding and modernization.

“We will assess and fortify the structure for the future,” Gabriel Hernandez, general manager, Burns & McDonnell Caribbean, told ENR.

The contract award from island utility, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) was announced Jan. 14, though it was awarded in August.

The award of the contract “is more of the beginning,” of the rebuild, Ken Gerling, vice president of program management for Burns & McDonnell, told ENR. “It’s the setting of the stage.” 

Many more contracts will be let to help rebuild the island’s transmission, distribution and generation systems, which may include novel approaches such as “minigrids” to power remote areas, and up to 3,900 MW of renewable power and 1,640 MW of battery storage by 2025. 

Burns & McDonnell's scope for PREPA will be focused on projects funded by  the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Relief funds from the U.S. Dept. of Housing.

The island is set to receive $9.6  billion from FEMA and potentially up to $18 billion from CDBG grants.

The overarching strategy for the rebuild is an engineering, procurement and contractor model, with a heavy reliance on local contractors, which “won’t be a stretch” for the company, Gerling says. Burns & McDonnell was deployed to the island immediately after Maria and has been working with PREPA and local contractors ever since.

The Burns & McDonnell contract must be renewed annually, starting this June, and is valued at $9 million for this first year, says Mike Brown, president of Burns & McDonnell International. That amount is expected to grow as is the company's project team, which currently stands at about 30.

The company has worked with PREPA and other stakeholders to create a 10-year plan to rebuild and strengthen the island’s power system as required in the island’s integrated resource plan. That 10-year plan should be approved relatively soon, and then work will begin, Gerling says. The first projects will include substation and distribution rebuilding, he says.

“The sheer scale and widespread devastation and destruction caused by Hurricane Maria on the power grid has created an opportunity to completely rebuild it in a resilient and modern way,” Efran Paredes, CEO of PREPA, said in a statement announcing the contract.

"We want to deliver a grid to the people of Puerto Rico that is resilient to severe weather conditions in the future. As the leader in transmission and distribution, we look to our new partnership with Burns & McDonnell to rebuild our electrical infrastructure,” he said.

The entire island lost power during Hurricane Maria. Some areas had to wait a year before power was restored. Since restoration, the power has gone out in areas numerous times due to earthquakes and hurricanes. The new grid will focus on resilience, says Hernandez.

Much of the island wasn’t up to modern standards and codes before the storm, and the grid hasn’t improved since then, he says.  The bulk of the work will be rebuilding the island’s transmission and distribution lines.