Puerto Rico moves to can­cel White­fish power con­tract af­ter up­roar

Stabroek News - - REGIONAL NEWS -

WASH­ING­TON/NEW YORK, (Reuters) - Puerto Rico’s gov­ern­ment power com­pany said yes­ter­day it will can­cel a $300 mil­lion con­tract with a tiny Mon­tana com­pany to re­store power to the storm-hit U.S. ter­ri­tory af­ter an up­roar over the deal.

The con­tract be­tween White­fish En­ergy Hold­ings and Puerto Rico’s bank­rupt power util­ity came un­der fire af­ter it was re­vealed last week that the terms were ob­tained with­out a com­pet­i­tive pub­lic bid­ding process. Res­i­dents, lo­cal of­fi­cials and U.S. fed­eral au­thor­i­ties all crit­i­cized the ar­range­ment.

The can­cel­la­tion could fur­ther com­pli­cate Puerto Rico’s most press­ing chal­lenge from the ter­ri­tory’s worst storm in 80 years - restor­ing power to its 3.4 mil­lion res­i­dents. Nearly six weeks af­ter Hur­ri­cane Maria dev­as­tated the is­land, only about a quar­ter of homes and busi­nesses have power, and the util­ity has set a goal of hav­ing 95 per­cent of power back by the mid­dle of De­cem­ber.

Sev­eral other util­i­ties have been in­volved in re­cov­ery ef­forts, but White­fish said they had more than 350 peo­ple on the is­land. Puerto Rico Elec­tric Power Au­thor­ity’s (PREPA) Di­rec­tor Ricardo Ramos said that he had to con­sider the “de­lay risk” of agree­ing to can­cel the con­tract. The ter­ri­tory has reached out to of­fi­cials in Florida and New York, which have al­ready sent peo­ple to Puerto Rico, to send more crews in the event that White­fish de­parts.

White­fish said in a state­ment it was “dis­ap­pointed” in the de­ci­sion, adding that it will “only de­lay what the peo­ple of Puerto Rico want and de­serve – to have the power re­stored quickly in the same man­ner their fel­low ci­ti­zens on the main­land ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter.”

Ear­lier yes­ter­day, Puerto Rico’s Gov­er­nor, Ricardo Ros­selló had called for the con­tract with White­fish to be can­celed, and PREPA’s Ramos said he had ac­cepted the gov­er­nor’s rec­om­men­da­tion.

“Fol­low­ing the in­for­ma­tion that has emerged, and with the goal of pro­tect­ing pub­lic in­ter­est, as gov­er­nor I am ask­ing gov­ern­ment and en­ergy au­thor­i­ties to im­me­di­ately ac­ti­vate the clause to can­cel the con­tract to White­fish En­ergy,” Ros­sello said in a state­ment.

Ramos, in a press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day, noted that the ini­tial en­thu­si­asm from res­i­dents over White­fish em­ploy­ees com­ing to the is­land had shifted in the last sev­eral days af­ter media re­ported the de­tails of the con­tract.

“As soon as this whole is­sue was in­ter­preted by the tabloids that PREPA has given away $300 mil­lion to a com­pany with lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence…if you read that, and you have no light and no wa­ter that per­cep­tion changes abruptly to the ex­tent that the last four days they’ve been throw­ing stones and bot­tles” at work­ers, Ramos said.

Ramos said con­tract terms with White­fish meant that the can­cel­la­tion would be­come ef­fec­tive 30 days from no­tice and, sig­nal­ing po­ten­tial in­tri­ca­cies, ex­plained that there were “a lot of lo­gis­tics in­volved. I be­lieve they have peo­ple on the way here.”

“The con­tract is not can­celled as of yet. I am writ­ing to­day a let­ter to the board of direc­tors of PREPA ask­ing for a res­o­lu­tion that will al­low me to can­cel the con­tract,” Ramos said.

A pickup truck from Mon­tana-based White­fish En­ergy Hold­ings is parked as work­ers (not pic­tured) help fix the is­land’s power grid, dam­aged dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Maria in Septem­ber, in Ma­nati, Puerto Rico Oc­to­ber 25, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez/File Photo

Jwala Ram­bar­ran

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