Whitefish stops work on Puerto Rico power grid over payment dispute

Source: Brandon Carter, The Hill, November 20, 2017
 
Whitefish Energy, which is under scrutiny over how it was selected for work in Puerto Rico, is halting its efforts on the island’s power grid because it says the local power authority owes it millions of dollars.  In an interview with CNN published Monday, Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski said the company is owed more than $83 million by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and is stopping work because its repeated requests for payment were not fulfilled.  “We stopped because of the financial situation, lack of payment with PREPA has gotten beyond its maximum threshold and what we can sustain as a business,” Techmankski said.  The company’s CEO said that it has employed more than 500 contractors and subcontractors on its work to restore the island’s power grid following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. …

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Ricardo Ramos, embattled head of Puerto Rico’s power utility, resigns
Source: Phil McCausland, NBC News, November 17, 2017
 
The embattled head of Puerto Rico’s power utility resigned on Friday, the latest controversy to hit the island as it struggles to bring its electric grid back online. Ricardo Ramos, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Agency, submitted his resignation to Puerto Rico’s governor’s office only a few days after he testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee over the controversial contract he approved with Whitefish Energy Holdings, a small Montana firm to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid.  A few hours after Ramos resigned, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló recommended the appointment of engineer Justo González as interim director of the public utility.

After Doomed Whitefish Deal, Puerto Rico Asks Congress for $94 Billion
Source: Frances Robles, New York Times, November 14, 2017

The governor of Puerto Rico and the chief executive of its beleaguered electric company faced hours of questioning on Tuesday in Congress, where skeptical legislators questioned whether to give the island an enormous aid package on the heels of a botched high-priced contract to fix its power grid.
Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló came to Senate and House committees with a huge ask: $94.4 billion to help Puerto Rico “build back better” after Hurricane Maria destroyed or damaged 472,000 homes and knocked out the island’s electricity. He also said that Puerto Rico should have more authority over its own fiscal affairs, and that he had “zero role” in awarding a highly criticized $300 million deal to a small Montana firm to help restore power. …


The Lineman Got $63 an Hour. The Utility Was Billed $319 an Hour.
Source: Frances Robles, New York Times, November 12, 2017
 
The small energy outfit from Montana that won a $300 million contract to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s tattered power grid had few employees of its own, so it did what the Puerto Rican authorities could have done: It turned to Florida for workers.  For their trouble, the six electrical workers from Kissimmee are earning $42 an hour, plus overtime. The senior power linemen from Lakeland are earning $63 an hour working in Puerto Rico, the Florida utility said. Their 40 co-workers from Jacksonville, also linemen, are making up to $100 earning double time, public records show.  But the Montana company that hired the workers, Whitefish Energy Holdings, had a contract that allowed it to bill the Puerto Rican public power company, known as Prepa, $319 an hour for linemen, a rate that industry experts said was far above the norm even for emergency work — and almost 17 times the average salary of their counterparts in Puerto Rico.
 
Opinion: Puerto Rico suffers amid disaster capitalism
Source: Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan, Press Connects, November 5, 2017

…There are people coming to the island, though: the disaster capitalists. As eloquently articulated by journalist Naomi Klein in her book “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” disasters both natural and human-made are increasingly being exploited by for-profit corporations and so-called free-market ideologues to reshape vast swaths of impacted societies, undermining social-welfare systems, privatizing public utilities, busting unions and making obscene profits rebuilding. Post-hurricane Puerto Rico is shaping up to be a textbook case of the shock doctrine.

… Case in point is the $300 million, no-bid contract awarded to Whitefish Energy to rebuild the island’s power grid. … As we spoke, news broke that Gov. Rossello had called for the cancellation of the contract. Jaramillo demanded not only that, but also the firing of the head of PREPA, who signed the contract, and a full criminal investigation into all those responsible for it. Like Mayor Cruz, Jaramillo is working to incorporate solar power into the rebuilt power grid, without privatizing the grid in the process. In the meantime, Fortune 500 Fluor Corp. has also received a $200 million contract to work on the power grid. As Whitefish eventually heads back to Montana, there are two things you can be sure of: More disaster capitalists will be lining up to take its place, and the proud, resilient population of Puerto Rico, growing intolerant of the delays and the corruption, will be increasingly vigilant, while building momentum for renewable alternatives to the fossil-fuel power grid that has failed them.

The Puerto Rico Power Scandal Expands
Source: Vann R. Newkirk II, The Atlantic, November 3, 2017
 
A second federal contract with a company hired to rebuild Puerto Rico’s all but collapsed power grid is coming under scrutiny, drawing the attention of federal investigators and even members of Congress even as most of the hurricane-ravaged island remains without power. The news of a second faulty contract is also raising questions about the contracting process for the island’s government-owned power company, the  Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority (PREPA).  Puerto Rico’s crumbling, aging electrical grid was at the heart of the island’s crippling debt and infrastructure problems even before Hurricanes Irma and Maria slammed into it over a month ago. But now, in the wake of recent scandals over contractors hired to fix that very grid, some experts expect the timeline for full recovery to last well into next year. …

FBI Is Probing Puerto Rico Power Contract
Source: Andrew Scurria, Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2017
 
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating a decision by Puerto Rico’s power authority to award a $300 million contract to a tiny Montana energy firm to rebuild electrical infrastructure damaged in Hurricane Maria, according to people familiar with the matter.  Agents from the FBI’s San Juan field office are looking into circumstances surrounding the deal that the public power monopoly known as Prepa signed with Whitefish Energy Holdings LLC, according to the people familiar with the matter.  Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló canceled the contract Sunday, saying it had become a distraction from the U.S. territory’s efforts to restore the devastated grid. Only 30% of the island’s power customers have had electricity restored. …

Puerto Rico moves to cancel contract with Whitefish Energy to repair electric grid
Source: Steven Mufson, Arelis R. Hernandez, and Aaron C. Davis, Washington Post, October 29, 2017

Puerto Rico’s electric company moved Sunday to cancel a $300 million contract with a small Montana firm for repairs to the territory’s hurricane-ravaged electrical grid, saying controversy surrounding the agreement was distracting from the effort to restore power. The contract with Whitefish Energy — a firm that had just two employees the day the storm hit — had drawn blistering criticism from members of Congress for days. And on Friday the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has a large role in determining government reimbursements, said it had “significant concerns” about how the contract was secured. …

Here’s What’s In That $300 Million Whitefish Contract
Source: Laurel Wamsley, NPR, October 27, 2017

Last week, a tiny company in Montana called Whitefish Energy Holdings announced that it had been given a $300 million contract with Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to help restore electricity on the island, which was severely damaged last month by Hurricane Maria. As we reported, that deal was met with surprise and suspicion from many: The project is enormous, and Whitefish is a two-year-old firm that until recently had just two full-time employees. The full text of the Whitefish contract is now publicly available, so all of its terms can finally be assessed. Reporter Yanira Hernández Cabiya at Caribbean Businessobtained the contract and published it online. …

Whitefish Energy contract bars government from auditing deal
Source: John Bowden, The Hill, October 27, 2017

A deal reached between the government and a small Montana energy company located in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s hometown prohibits the government from reviewing labor costs or profits related to the company’s relief efforts in Puerto Rico, according to a leaked copy of the contract.  A copy of the deal obtained by reporter Ken Klippenstein reveals that the government isn’t allowed to “audit or review the cost and profit elements” under the agreement, allowing the company greater discretion and secrecy for how it spends the $300 million to restore power to the island. Puerto Rico is rebuilding after two major hurricanes wiped out most of the island’s aging electrical grid. …

Small Montana firm lands Puerto Rico’s biggest contract to get the power back on
Source: Steven Mufson, Jack Gillum, Aaron C. Davis, and Arelis R. Hernandez, Washington Post, October 23, 2017

For the sprawling effort to restore Puerto Rico’s crippled electrical grid, the territory’s state-owned utility has turned to a two-year-old company from Montana that had just two full-time employees on the day Hurricane Maria made landfall.  The company, Whitefish Energy, said last week that it had signed a $300 million contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to repair and reconstruct large portions of the island’s electrical infrastructure. The contract is the biggest yet issued in the troubled relief effort. … The power authority, also known as PREPA, opted to hire Whitefish rather than activate the “mutual aid” arrangements it has with other utilities. For many years, such agreements have helped U.S. utilities — including those in Florida and Texas recently — to recover quickly after natural disasters. … Whitefish Energy is based in Whitefish, Mont., the home town of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Its chief executive, Andy Techmanski, and Zinke acknowledge knowing one another …

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