The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), an industry association that represents all U.S. investor-owned electric companies, made a point during its annual convention of recognizing the mutual assistance workers who labored tirelessly to restore power to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.
Nearly 200 personnel, who had worked on the ground in Puerto Rico, gathered on stage during the opening session of the EEI event in San Diego, California, on June 5. Even though the actual number of workers involved in the effort was far greater—Tom Kuhn, EEI president, said more than 3,000 lineworkers, support personnel, and company representatives were part of the historic mutual assistance response and restoration effort—a gasp could be heard from the crowd when the group of 200 stood to make their way to the stage.
EEI Chairman and PNM Resources Chairman, President, and CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn said, “The expertise, the creativity, and the leadership that was brought to bear, along with the sacrifices of so many of you who answered the call for help, were extraordinary. We are all well aware of the destruction and the challenges on the island, but it helps to see what our crews and our companies faced.” At that point, the following video was shown.
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) International President Lonnie R. Stephenson was unable to attend the convention, but he provided a video message to salute the workers. “Please know, the sacrifices each of you made, and your can-do spirit are so appreciated by your colleagues, our restoration partners, and Americans, both [on] the mainland and on the island,” Stephenson said. “I was just in Puerto Rico last month, and while I was there, I talked to some of the PREPA [Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority] linemen who were helped by your efforts, and I can tell you this, everyone there appreciates what you did. The people of Puerto Rico still have a long way to go, but your hard work truly put everyone there on the right path.”
“In times of need, be it manmade or natural disasters, you think about it, you think about who are those first responders? Most people think of police and firemen. And I’m not trying to take anything away from them, but really, it’s the Utility Workers, the IBEW, and the utility companies that are on those front lines. Right? Hurricanes, tornadoes, mudslides, you name it. These are the folks that, they go in and cut the power, they cut the water, they cut the gas. They go in. They rebuild. They restore. They’re there from beginning to end, before even the first responders can usually get into these areas,” said Utility Workers Union of America National President Mike Langford. “To be able to say thank you to the women and men of the Utility Workers, the IBEW, and all the utility companies in this country, it’s an honor. It’s a true honor to say: Thank you all for the work that you do day in and day out.”
Carlos D. Torres, EEI consultant and Puerto Rico power restoration coordinator, reminded the audience that the job of restoring Puerto Rico’s power was still not done. He said although 99.34% of the customers in Puerto Rico had service as of June 5, that meant there were still an estimated 9,675 people that didn’t have power.
“That’s something that customers on the mainland would be in outrage if they didn’t have power for several days, let alone months,” Torres said. “That really tells you something about the patience and the resilience of the people of Puerto Rico.”
Torres wished “the folks at PREPA the best of luck as they carry the ball across the goal line.”
—Aaron Larson, executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)