Detroit — DTE Energy Tuesday sent about 45 of its trucks on the first leg of a trip to help restore power in Puerto Rico.
Just before 8 a.m., about 90 DTE workers and the group of bucket trucks, pickups, vans, diggers and other vehicles set out from the electric company’s service center on Livernois and Warren in Detroit for Norfolk, Virginia. After arriving in Norfolk, the vehicles will be loaded onto a barge and head to the Caribbean Island.
“We’re going to be joining 18 other utilities that are starting the journey with us,” said Ana Medina, service manager for DTE’s Distribution Operations division. “The fact that we’re sending so many people to help restore power in Puerto Rico makes me very proud.”
A native of Puerto Rico, Medina spent weeks on the island helping to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Maria. The Category 4 hurricane ripped through the island on Sept. 20, 2017, and caused an estimated 64 deaths and as much as $95 billion in damage.
It’s estimated about half of the island’s 3.3 million people are still without power and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicts all of Puerto Rico won’t be electrified until May.
DTE Energy officials said the company plans to send about 50 linemen and 30 workers to Puerto Rico in about two weeks, the time it will take for the trucks and equipment to reach the island. The workers along with Medina will all catch flights to Puerto Rico.
Once there, all of the utility companies will work with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the island’s largest electricity provider, and the Edison Electric Institute, a U.S. trade association for investor-owned electric companies, to restore power to the island, Medina said.
She said the DTE group’s efforts to restore electricity will focus on the Carolina area of Puerto Rico, an area on the island’s northeast coast and east of San Juan.
The linemen who will be going to Puerto Rico weren’t at the service center Tuesday for the start of the convoy.
Brian Calka, DTE Energy’s director of Field Operations, said the company can spare the 80 workers right now because this time of year is typically slower.
“We’re hopeful that remains the case this year and we don’t need crews for storm restoration here,” he said.
However, he said, the company is prepared for any winter emergency that pops up in Southeast Michigan.
“Obviously, a good chunk of our workforce will be heading to Puerto Rico,” Calka said. “But what will happen is the people who remain will step up to the challenge and work double shifts, if necessary.”
Based in Detroit, DTE Energy operates an electric utility that serves 2.2 million customers in Southeast Michigan and a natural gas utility that serves 1.2 million customers across the state. The company has a total workforce of about 10,000 employees.