On Sunday, NBC News reported that Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló has asked the board of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to cancel their contract with Whitefish Energy.
It’s now been over a month since Hurricane Maria knocked out power across the entire island of Puerto Rico, and thousands of residents are still struggling to keep the lights on. So when a mainland U.S.-based energy company stepped forward to offer their services to help restore power to the island—for a price of approximately $300 million—the local power authority agreed.
But almost immediately, the contract raised red flags. The company—Whitefish Energy Holdings, based in Whitefish, Montana—was not some large corporation with hundreds of experienced employees who could quickly deploy to Puerto Rico, but a tiny 2-man operation with annual revenues of $1 million. What’s more, the company appeared to have close ties to Trump administration official Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the Interior who lives in Whitefish, Montana.
Zinke and Whitefish Energy CEO Andy Techmanski have denied any wrongdoing, but both acknowledged that they knew each other for years. One of Zinke’s sons worked as a flagger at construction sites where Whitefish Energy was operating.
The curious circumstances were enough for some lawmakers in Congress and in Puerto Rico to call for an investigation into how and why the contract was awarded. A leaked copy of the contract itself also revealed unusual language in the contract that stipulates nobody would be allowed “to audit or review the cost and profit elements of the labor rates.”
Though Russelló can apply pressure on PREPA, the agency is notorious for their inefficiency and corruption. An audit of the public utility last year found that PREPA had been “operating for decades without regulation or oversight,” and was burning through money with little to show for it.
Russelló isn’t the first official in Puerto Rico to raise the alarm over the Whitefish Energy deal. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz called for greater transparency regarding the terms of the contract, to which Whitefish Energy responded (via Twitter) by threatening to pull their workers out of San Juan.
Meanwhile, thousands of residents are still without power in Puerto Rico. Donald Trump, who spent his weekend golfing, gave himself and his administration a perfect 10 for how they handled recovery efforts in the U.S. territory after Maria, presumably based on his excellent wrist motion when flinging rolls of paper towels at suffering residents. Private companies like Tesla have stepped up in the absence of leadership from the White House, helping to restore power to a children’s hospital in San Juan.