Hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico will soon get help from Irving-based engineering and construction firm Fluor as part of federal efforts to return power to 3 million people.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded Fluor a $240 million contract this week to help restore the island's electric grid. A month after Hurricane Maria struck, about 86 percent of Puerto Rico is still without power.

Maria was one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record and arrived just after the financially troubled island was damaged by Hurricane Irma. And Puerto Rico was already struggling with occasional blackouts caused by faltering infrastructure. Officials have said it could take six months to a year to restore electricity in some areas.

Fluor's role in the reconstruction wasn't immediately clear, although it's often hired for major infrastructure projects locally and globally. A FEMA news release said the company would "augment current restoration activities."

A company spokesman said a written statement about Fluor's contract was in the works.

President Donald Trump has criticized the slow pace of recovery in Puerto Rico and said on Twitter that federal help can't go on "forever." Last week, the U.S. House approved access to $4.9 billion in low-interest loans for Puerto Rico.

Fluor has a long history with the U.S. territory. The company was a contractor on Puerto Rico's first oil refinery, which opened in 1955. More recently, Fluor provided engineering, construction and other services for a coal-fired power plant that was providing 17 percent of the island's electricity.

This recovery contract was one of a series announced this month to help the island of about 3.4 million residents. The announcement also included:

  • $115 million from the corps for 50,000 poles and 6,500 miles of cable for power lines.
  • $35.1 million to Pennsylvania-based Weston Solutions for two diesel turbines that will provide 50 megawatts of electricity to the San Juan metro area.

The corps has already installed 106 temporary generators in Puerto Rico and is working on 36 more.

Puerto Rico's Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said he's interested in incorporating more solar, batteries and microgrids into the territory's rebuilt grid. In 2016, just 2 percent of the its electricity came from renewable sources, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Like many islands, electricity is expensive in Puerto Rico. Residential electricity prices were about 50 percent higher than the U.S. average this summer. The commercial rate was nearly double, and the industrial rate was one and a half times higher.

The Solar Energy Industries Association and companies have shipped solar equipment to Puerto Rico as part of a humanitarian effort and to promote the technology. Tesla's Elon Musk said he would send the island battery systems to store electricity generated by solar panels.

Bloomberg contributed to this report.

Presented by Dallas Morning News, October 19, 2017

 
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