After the initial disaster following Hurricane Maria two months ago, about 58 percent of the island’s electricity is back up as Whitefish Energy Holdings resumed work to repair portions of Puerto Rico’s electrical grid after suspending work while waiting for overdue payments.
How a small electrical company from Whitefish, Montana, which had only two full-time employees at the time it received the bid, has managed to secure an emergency contract to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical grid is still a mystery. Through connections with the secretary of the interior, Whitefish Energy Holdings received favoritism that landed them the controversial bid. Democrats in the U.S. as well as opposing politicians in Puerto Rico have become skeptical of the deal after finding out that the company’s chief executive, Andy Techmanski, is from the same small town in Montana as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
The work load needed to repair the electrical grid required thousands of workers and while some businesses, medical centers as well as a few private residencies were running power with generators, a majority of the 3.4 million people living on the island had no electrical power up to six weeks after the initial hurricane hit.
FEMA issued a statement regarding the contract, citing that it had “significant concerns” regarding the deal and there was a possibility the cost of repairs would not be covered if the contract was found to be improper according to regulations. By awarding the bid to Whitefish Energy Holdings, the government put personal connections before helping to restore the electrical grid for victims in a timely manner. Gov. Ricardo A. Rossello asked for a federal investigation of the contract. The House Committee on Natural Resources, which oversees Puerto Rican affairs, demanded the power authority send all records connected with the contract. Following that, the inspector general’s office at the Department of Homeland Security said it would begin investigating the matter.
The situation in Puerto Rico has become so tense that Whitefish has asked for security protection because many upset residents have started throwing rocks at workers on the island. The chief of executive power, Ricardo Ramos said in a New York Times article in October, 2017 that if you are without power you feel like the energy authority gave away $300 million to a company that does not have the experience.
The apparent sketchiness of the contract being awarded to a small-town company like Whitefish was bound to raise questions, but the fact that Ramos had not even heard about the company prior to awarding them the contract, only further points to it being awarded on a basis of connections.
Another reason given by Ramos as to why Whitefish got the deal over reputable competitors like PowerSecure, was because they did not ask for a large payment upfront whereas other competitors did. While this can partially explain why the contract was awarded to Whitefish, it still does not validate why an emergency contract of this magnitude could have possibly been awarded to such a small company.