Puerto Rico says it’s canceling deal with Whitefish
Puerto Rico’s state-run electric utility said Sunday that it has accepted the governor’s request to immediately cancel a $300 million contract with a small Montana-based energy firm amid mounting controversy over the deal, according to media reports.
Ricardo Ramos, the island’s energy authority executive director, announced the decision during a press conference, according to ABC News.
The decision followed another press conference on Sunday in which Gov. Ricardo Rosselló called for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to “immediately” cancel the deal.
Not long afterward, local media reported that Ramos had canceled the contract.
[AHORA] Director de @AEEONLINE, Ricardo Ramos, asegura cancelación de contrato a Whitefish no se debe a que haya ilegalidades en el mismo.
— NotiUno 630 (@NotiUno) October 29, 2017
PREPA cut the deal to repair Puerto Rico’s crumbling electrical grid on Sept. 26, just days after Hurricane Maria barreled across the island.
At the time the storm hit the island, Whitefish Energy had only two full-time employees. The arrangement drew intense scrutiny, with critics arguing that the firm did not have experience working on a project as large in scale as that in Puerto Rico. The island has been without power for more than a month.
The company, however, has argued that its experience working in mountainous terrain qualified it to take on the project.
The arrangement came under fire in part because Whitefish Energy is located in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, though he has said he had no contact with the firm until after it was awarded the PREPA contract.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also sought to distance itself from the Whitefish deal, saying in a statement last week that the decision to award the contract to the Montana-based company was made by PREPA alone. The White House has also distanced itself from the contract.
PREPA and Whitefish signed the deal with no competitive bidding process in late September, and the contract guaranteed that FEMA “has reviewed and approved” it — a characterization the agency denied.
Questions about the contract prompted two congressional investigations, a Department of Homeland Security inspector general audit, a review by Puerto Rico’s government and numerous calls for more investigations.
More than a month after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, most of the territory’s residents — U.S. citizens — remain without power. As of Sunday afternoon, just under 30 percent of the island had electricity, according to a website maintained by the Puerto Rican government.