Puerto Rico governor: Scrap Whitefish energy grid deal
- Author: Rogelio Becker Oct 30, 2017,
Oct 30, 2017, 1:38
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.
"There can not be any kind of distraction that alters the commitment to restore electrical power as soon as possible in Puerto Rico", Rossello said, adding that almost $8 million has been paid to Whitefish so far.
Puerto Rico is still in shambles 39 days after category 4 Hurricane Maria swept through on September 20.
"This is a contract that was determined by local authorities", she said, asserting that the federal government "has nothing to do" with the contract.
In a statement Friday, Zinke labeled as "completely baseless" any "attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding or influencing any contract" involving Whitefish Energy Holdings.
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.
The Puerto Rican power authority's decision to forego "mutual aid" agreements with utilities from other areas - as is traditional after large-scale disasters - and assign the job to a for-profit company instead baffled many experts.
"Much of the controversy that has surrounded the contract has focused on the high rates Whitefish is charging for labor".
On Friday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Trump asked Zinke about the contract and the cabinet secretary said he was not involved. "This was something exclusively determined by the Puerto Rican government".
In defense of the contract with Whitefish, Puerto Rico officials have said the company was willing to work without a down payment, which made it more attractive to the debt-ridden island.
The Department of Homeland Security says its has started an investigation of the awarding of the contract and will look for any "inappropriate relationships".
FEMA has denied approving the contract. The ranking Democrats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources and Finance committees on Wednesday asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the contract. Zinke has said he had nothing to do with the contract.
During a news conference Thursday, Rosselló said he was expecting an audit into Whitefish's $300 million contract.