House Republicans and Democrats are wondering why the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) awarded a $300 million contract to the 2-year-old company Whitefish Energy LLC, instead of invoking mutual aid agreements with other utilities.
Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, is heading to Puerto Rico this week to personally survey the desperate situation on the island.
The debt-laden U.S. territory is recovering from two major hurricanes, and PREPA’s contract with Whitefish has raised serious questions.
“The size and unknown details of this contract raise numerous questions,” committee spokesman Parish Braden told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva, the committee’s ranking Democrat, called for a full investigation into the deal, which The Washington Post detailed in a Tuesday expose. Grijalva said Democrats “pushed for a full investigation of some sort” into the Whitefish deal.
“This is one of many things the committee is taking a close look at as it continues to work with the resident commissioner, governor’s office, and oversight board to ensure Puerto Rico’s recovery is robust, effective and sustained,” Braden told TheDCNF.
PREPA signed a $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy last week to reconstruct the island’s power infrastructure. Hurricane Maria knocked out power to nearly all of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents.
The deal also drew questions because the pace of Puerto Rico’s recovery has been so slow. PREPA opted to work with a start-up firm that had two employees before starting work on the island.
Whitefish has grown its staff, WaPo reported, now boasting “280 workers in the territory, using linemen from across the country, most of them as subcontractors, and that the number grows on average from 10 to 20 people a day.”
However, in contracting with Whitefish, PREPA opted not to activate mutual assistance agreements it’s signed with utilities across the country.
The American Public Power Association said PREPA had not asked for assistance to help with the recovery. Utilities in Texas and Florida activated mutual aid agreements after recent hurricanes struck.
Some media outlets have tried to tie Whitefish Energy and its financial backers to the Trump administration, but E&E News reported that PREPA had tapped the company for a smaller rebuilding project in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
After Hurricane Maria hit, a PREPA employee “who had a satellite phone and phone number called Whitefish following the hurricane,” E&E News reported. “PREPA apparently had access to the phone number because the company issued a request for proposals when Hurricane Irma caused minor damage to the island two weeks earlier.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is heading the effort to rebuild Puerto Rico’s grid. The Corps plans on spending more than $400 million to rebuild the entire electric grid, which will get plumbing and drinking water systems back online.
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