Puerto Rico’s Path to Energy Independence
Puerto Rico is undergoing a massive energy transformation. By 2050, 100% of their power will come from renewable sources. But what about 2020?
Right now, most electrical power flows from fossil fuel plants in the south to consumers in the north, where 70% of the island’s power is used. When anything happens to the southern plants, power outages and blackouts rapidly spread across the island.
It happened in 2017 with Hurricane Maria, and it happened again in January when a 6.7-magnitude earthquake struck Puerto Rico.
The first step to solving that problem? Modernizing the energy grid, which involved converting San Juan Units 5 & 6 from a diesel power plant to one that runs on natural gas.
“Not only will this new plant help Puerto Rico improve their energy grid, but it also means reduced emissions and better prices for its consumers in the short term,” said Jeffrey Delgado, who heads Industrial Development and Export Sales for City Electric Supply out of Miami Gardens, Florida. Delgado and City Electric Supply helped supply the electrical components required for the conversion.
“The Central San Juan power plant is made up of four steam units (1 – 4) and two gas units (5 and 6),” Delgado said. “The conversion alone from diesel to natural gas will give the plant a combined generation capacity of 440 megawatts, which is enough to power over 350,000 homes.”
And although a new natural gas plant isn’t aligned with a 100% renewable future, it still brings stability and resilience, a critical stopgap to Puerto Rico’s existing energy grids.
“This is the first natural gas project of its kind in Puerto Rico,” Delgado said. “A more stable energy grid will continue to bring more people back to the island, more businesses, and just more opportunity.”
In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the island’s energy grid, which took 18 months to repair and fully restore power to the island. It’s estimated that more than a million people left after the hurricane in search of relief and economic opportunity.
Since then, Puerto Rico has worked quickly to establish greater energy resilience in the face of natural disasters and power outages, and this first development with City Electric Supply was a first huge step.
“It’s important that what we do, especially when it comes to new developments, is make sure it helps people,” Delgado said. “This opens the door for more energy projects in the future, especially renewable. Better stability means better resilience, and even though Puerto Rico is making progress in modernizing the grid with natural gas, they’re still pursuing renewable energy, too.”
Although Units 5 & 6 represent the first step that Puerto Rico is taking to reduce emissions and update its grid, it’s not the last one. In March 2019, Puerto Rico passed into law a comprehensive energy policy. By 2050, the island of Puerto Rico plans to generate 100% of their energy through renewable sources.
Across Puerto Rico’s local communities, there’s widespread support for renewable energy, especially small-scale solar. Localized renewable sources like rooftop solar can reduce the risk of power line disruption and generally withstands hurricanes and earthquakes better than centralized plants.
With solar, microgrids, and other renewable developments already planned to help support energy grid independence, City Electric Supply is in a perfect position to help there as well, especially with their extensive renewables division and Delgado’s deep connections to the island.
“For more than 20 years, I’ve worked with Lord Electric and New Fortress Energy, two big pieces to making this whole thing possible,” Delgado said. “Lord Electric is the largest contractor in Puerto Rico and the one that handled the conversion of the San Juan plant. New Fortress Energy has launched many energy-generating projects all around the Caribbean, including this one. With renewable projects on the way, I believe that City Electric Supply can truly help Puerto Rico transform the way it generates energy for the better.”
What It Takes to Supply a Sustainable Future
Long nights, an unstoppable commitment to serving the customer, and a great team are part of what it takes, but of course for Delgado there was a little bit more to it than that.
From Miami, Delgado handled the shipment of materials even when it got a little challenging, especially with the global COVID-19 pandemic slowing down operations for shipping terminals.
However, City Electric Supply is known for its service, and Delgado did everything he could to make sure that urgent materials and emergency deliveries made it to their destination on time, even if that meant shipping through the air.
From supplying the lighting and terminations to the cables and even cable trays, everything had to stick closely to a deadline to bring San Juan Units 5 & 6 online as planned.
“There were overnight deliveries and long weekends,” Delgado noted, “but that’s just part of working on an important project like this. A lot of people depend on you, and not just the contractor and everyone working on-site. The people who need more reliable energy depend on this, too.”
District Manager Aramis Montenegro backed up all of Delgado’s hard work, a commitment to just how much progress he’s made in the short time he’s been with CES.
“I’ve worked with Jeffrey Delgado for more than 25 years in this industry, but he only recently joined City Electric Supply about a year ago. The connections that Jeffrey has, the relationships he has in this industry, in Puerto Rico, in the Caribbean — they run deep. I know we’re just scratching the surface of what we can accomplish here, and he’s going to be a huge reason for that.”
But it’s not just Montenegro who feels this way. Even Lord Electric sent a letter to Delgado after the San Juan plant was completed, praising his attentiveness, his dedication, and just how much trust they had to fully rely and depend on him and City Electric Supply as a whole.
For Delgado, the letter was just another way to show how much City Electric Supply has to offer in the future development of Puerto Rico.
“I have to do it because I know we can do it,” he said. “The appreciation was nice, but it just proves how much opportunity there is in that market. If we keep doing what we’re doing, there will be more opportunities to make an even deeper impact than we have already.”
Regional Manager Mike Bertone agrees, reinforcing everything that Lord Electric and District Manager Aramis has covered.
“We’re able to do things like this because of guys like Jeffrey,” Bertone said. “The letter proves that. CES puts a lot of trust in us to go over to Puerto Rico and secure this business, but without Jeffrey, without Aramis, none of this would’ve been possible. I have nothing but confidence in the team and that they have what it takes to go out and make it happen.”
As for Jeffrey Delgado, of course it feels nice to have all of the hard work recognized, but he wants most of the credit to go to the team that helped.
“It’s the effort of the team that brings it all together,” he notes. “Beatriz Cintron who is the Branch Manager of the Puerto Rico branch, Darian Munoz who is the Operations Manager in the Industrial Development and Export Sales Branch, and Dave Snyder who is the Controller for East Florida’s accounting division all provided great support.”
“Dave specifically helped on all the import duties, taxes, and regulations, supporting us through each phase of the process. And Darian coordinated the deliveries from the factories and freight lines to Puerto Rico. We couldn’t have accomplished what we did without them.”
The Big, Green Picture
“At CES, a lot of what we do impacts the local level,” District Manager Montenegro said. “But a project like this lets you take a step back, and just say, ‘Wow. This is big.’ We were able to do something great for many thousands and thousands of people.”
And that’s exactly what this new plant will do for Puerto Rico. With renewable energy projects on the horizon, Jeffrey Delgado isn’t going to wait for the next opportunity to fall into his lap. He’s actively searching for it.
“This is what I’m doing now, just creating ideas, thinking of ways to support that market. My dream is to keep doing important projects like this in Puerto Rico and all around the Caribbean. We have a very good opportunity to show customers and even competitors what City Electric Supply can do.”