On Sept. 21, 1998, Hurricane George struck Puerto Rico and devastated the island's electrical grid. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) estimates that 85% of the population was without power.

PREPA has its own construction and maintenance line department as well as its own helicopter division, capable of handling routine work in the island's rugged terrain. But a restoration effort of this magnitude was far beyond routine work. PREPA called on Agrotors Helicopter Services for assistance. The utility airlifted two helicopters and crews to the island using cargo planes provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The initial priority was to restore the critical 230-kV transmission lines linking the remote southern half of the island to the more populous northern coast, which encompasses the San Juan metro area. The majority of damage consisted of downed towers and broken insulators, which left the conductors either hanging or resting on the structure's braces. Extensive conductor damage left twisted bundles and broken spacers.

PREPA's crews concentrated on replacing the destroyed towers and clearing debris. Agrotors focused on repairing the damaged towers. The conductors were quickly re-attached by sling-loading men and equipment to the towers. The twisted bundles were righted, broken spacers and conductor damage was repaired, and new dead-end jumpers were installed.

Restoration of the 230-W transmission system proved remarkably quick. Efforts then turned to the 115-kV lines that feed the more remote portions of the country. Agrotors assisted with repairs to these lines and provided detailed damage reports using the Haverfield Visual Inspection Technique.

Restoration efforts on the island are expected to continue for the next four months.

Brazilian Consortium Acquires Bandeirante Distribution The government of Sao Paulo state announced the sale of the Bandeirante distribution company to a consortium of Brazil's Companhia Paulista de Forca e Luz (CPFL) and Electricidade de Portugal (EDP) for the minimum price of US$853 million.

The sale occurred at the height of concerns that the Brazilian real would be devalued and that global economic instability could sink the Brazilian economy. The EDP group was the only bidder in the tender. While some officials say they were disappointed with the results-earlier privatizations yielded premiums of more than 80% above minimum prices-most say they were pleased the sale happened at all, and that even a single bid was a vote of confidence in the economy.

ABB Wins First Powerformer Order ABB signed its first commercial order for its newly developed high-voltage generator. The Powerformer generates electricity at higher-than-usual voltages, allowing it to feed directly into a power grid without using a step-up transformer and associated equipment.

"By reducing the size and number of components, the Powerformer increases reliability, lowers maintenance costs, cuts power losses and reduces overall life-cycle costs by up to 30%," reports ABB.

The US$10 million order for the Powerformer generator came from the Swedish utility Eskilstuna Energi & Miljo, a biomass-fueled heat and power plant in Eskilstune, located in central Sweden.

Belgium Opens Market to Competition Belgium will experience an awakening as the country's electricity market opens for competition. The government recently approved guidelines that will govern the competition. The guidelines were developed in response to a European Union (EU) directive on the liberalization of electricity markets throughout the EU's 15 member states. In 1996, the EU agreed to open up the region's electricity market by 25% between 1997 and 1999, 28% by 2002 and 30% by 2005. The guidelines provide for: - The progressive introduction of a competitive market by 2006, with 35% of the market open to competition in 1999 and 65% open in 2007. - Current providers of power distribution networks must designate an administrator of an independent network. - Regulation of the market should protect clients not participating in or overseeing a competitive market. - The liberalized market must guarantee to lower prices for residential customers and to preserve the competitive position of small- and medium-sized businesses against tariffs in neighboring countries.

Previously, Belgium was granted an extra year to prepare for liberalization of its electricity market.