Sunday, 17 December, 2017

Puerto Rico governor demands problematic energy deal be scrapped

Puerto Rico's power outage after Hurricane Maria causes largest blackout in US history Questions over death toll in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria
Lance Thomas | 30 October, 2017, 01:37

Puerto Rico's governor called for the island's utility to cancel a $300 million power restoration contract with a small Montana-based company on Sunday.

Whitefish Energy Holdings was awarded the no-bid contract by the beleaguered Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority on September 26, and the deal has drawn loud criticism since its specifics have trickled out. Whitefish had just two employees when Maria struck the island. Right now, a tangle of federal agencies, private contractors and island authorities are struggling to work together to get the power working. It had never worked on a project close to the scale of the Puerto Rico power restoration. FEMA says it hasn't approved any reimbursement requests from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority for money to cover the ongoing repairs to the island's power grid following Hurricane Maria.

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

Critics have queried why Puerto Rican authorities did not seek aid from other public utility companies - as is customary during disasters.

The CEO of a company that received a highly scrutinized contract to restore power to Puerto Rico was born and raised in Baldwinsville.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Friday that the federal government had nothing to do with the decision to award a small Montana company with a contract to fix Puerto Rico's electrical grid. Zinke met with President Donald Trump on Friday morning, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump did ask Zinke about the contract, to which Zinke denied involvement. FEMA on Friday said that it had not approved the Whitefish Energy agreement. "This was something exclusively determined by the Puerto Rican government".

"Based on initial review and information from PREPA, FEMA has significant concerns with how PREPA procured this contract and has not confirmed whether the contract prices are reasonable", FEMA said in the statement. The ranking Democrats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources and Finance committees on Wednesday asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the contract. There will be a separate audit by the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General's Office.

During a news conference Thursday, Rosselló said he was expecting an audit into Whitefish's $300 million contract.

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