Puerto Rico's Frantic Search for Someone to Turn on the Lights

30 October, 2017, 01:35 | Author: Gregory Stephens
  • A Loon balloon getting ready to take flight to Puerto Rico from X's launch site in Nevada

The board had to do something: With so many people without power, PREPA is facing heavy criticism for having given the main restoration contract - worth up to $300 million - to Whitefish Energy, a tiny Montana firm with no history of executing on projects of this scale. And the firm is based in Whitefish, Montana, the hometown of President Trump's Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.

The Puerto Rican power company's, Ricardo Ramos, has said that Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority reached a deal with Whitefish just days before the hurricane struck, saying that he spoke with at least five other companies that demanded similar rates, in addition to a down payment the agency did not have.

On Sunday, Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rossello, asked the governing board of Puerto Rico's power authority to immediately cancel its contract.

He said the contract with Whitefish Energy had become a distraction after critics in the electric power industry, Congress and the Federal Emergency Management Agency raised questions.

Whitefish, which had just two employees when it won the contract, but since hired more than 300, had started work on restoring electrical power to the island, where only about 30 percent of the island's 3.7 million residents have had power since Hurricane Maria ravaged the territory and decimated its electrical grid system.

Under the contract, Whitefish is charging $330 an hour for a site supervisor and $227.88 an hour for a "journeyman lineman".


Thirty-nine days after Hurricane Maria hit the territory, Rossello said that he would request assistance from Florida and NY under mutual aid arrangements that utilities traditionally activate to help other states during an emergency. Some critics of the deal with the for-profit company say the island should have opted to use a mutual-aid network of public utilities that usually are called on for massive fix work after natural disasters. It has been working under contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.

"The federal government as I said has nothing to do with this contract or the process", said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Prepa and the Puerto Rican government are saddled with massive debts.

FEMA says its initial review raises significant concerns about how Whitefish got the deal and whether the contracted prices are reasonable. FEMA on Friday said that it had not approved the Whitefish Energy agreement.

"The governor also did not say how the utility would disentangle itself from the contract with Whitefish Energy".

On Friday, top Democrats from that panel and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee sent a letter requesting the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general launch an investigation.

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