BGE workers set out for Puerto Rico to join post-storm restoration

A crew of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. workers left Maryland on Saturday morning to join restoration efforts in Puerto Rico, where hundreds of thousands of people remain without power.

Sixteen men, mostly overhead line workers, set off from White Marsh for at least 30 days. Outside a BGE training facility on Pulaski Highway, the workers boarded a bus headed for Wilmington, Del., where they where scheduled to meet with teams from other Exelon utilities and then fly to San Juan on a charter plane.

Their final destination was a region in east-central Puerto Rico, where they planned to make repairs in remote areas still suffering from power outages.

Roughly 400,000 Puerto Rican customers were without power last week, months after Hurricane Maria hit the island in September. It’s the longest power outage in U.S. history.

While many of the workers have previously traveled as part of mutual assistance networks after storms, this trip is unique, said BGE President and Chief Operating Officer Steve Woerner, who was at the training center Saturday for the send-off.

A typical mutual assistance deployment is two weeks, Woerner said.

Given the distance involved, “this is a 30-day deployment for this group,” he said. “That’s the longest that these folks have been away from their families in this type of mission.”

Usually, crews arrive shortly after a storm, in the early stages of restoration, Woerner said.

“In this case, we’re going in behind five months of restoration activity,” he said. “And so we have to approach it differently in identifying what’s been done -- what’s temporary, what residents of the area have done in terms of generators, solar hookups.”

In the rural areas where the workers were headed, “they may have to set multiple poles and run multiple sections of wire just to restore one home,” Woerner said.

Earlier this month, BGE shipped bucket trucks and vehicles, as well as specialized equipment for accessing lines in remote areas, to Puerto Rico on a barge that left from the Port of Wilmington.

Six BGE employees who were part of an advance team traveled to the island before Saturday to prepare for the crew and coordinate with local utility officials, BGE spokesman Aaron Koos said.

Nicholas Weber, 34, an overhead crew leader from Aberdeen, said he was expecting to encounter challenges including rough, mountainous terrain, but was excited for the trip because he wanted to help those devastated from the storm.

“I definitely wanted to go,” he said. “Just like any storm we work here, the last [areas without power] are sometimes the hardest to get to and hardest to work.”

Weber’s family gathered in the parking lot in White Marsh to say goodbye.

“I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for him to help other people,” said his father, William, 60, who also works for BGE. “That’s his nature.”

On Friday, the Puerto Rico Electric Authority announced it would reduce power generation starting Sunday as a federal control board tries to secure a $300 million loan for the utility.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad