Embattled Puerto Rico electric utility chief resigns

Embattled Puerto Rico electric utility chief resigns

The head of Puerto Rico’s state-run electric utility has resigned amid a slow hurricane recovery effort and questions about the island’s repair contracts.

Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) executive director Ricardo Ramos stepped down on Friday, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló (D) said, according to reports.

Rosselló announced the resignation at the end of a health-care event on Friday. He called Ramos a “distraction” and said his management of PREPA had become “unsustainable.”

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In a statement, Rosselló recommended the PREPA board name Justo González, the utility's director of generation, as interim director until a new full-time head can be selected.

“I trust that this process will be completed as quickly as possible, with the purpose of not affecting the work leading to the restoration of the electrical system throughout the island,” he said.

Less than 45 percent of power has been restored to Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria swept across the U.S. territory in September, plunging the island into the worst electricity outage in American history. Rosselló told Congress on Tuesday that officials would have half the island’s power restored this week.

Ramos has faced a series of questions about a rebuilding contract signed with a small Montana energy company in September. Lawmakers of both parties have raised concerns with Whitefish Energy’s $300 million rebuilding contract, which is now the subject of watchdog and FBI investigations.

Ramos defended the contract before Congress this week, saying a private-sector deal promised to help the island recover faster than government options, and that Whitefish was preferred because it didn’t require a large downpayment, something the island couldn’t afford.

“I authorized the Whitefish contract while we continued to seek additional assistance from others for the complete, multibillion-dollar restoration effort still to come,” Ramos said before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday.

“My priority was securing the immediate assistance of first responders that we desperately needed.”

Ramos is the second high-ranking Puerto Rican official to resign in the past week. Abner Gomez, the director of the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency, left his post last Friday.

—Updated at 2:43 p.m.