Disaster Response and Mutual Aid

Puerto Rico utility cancels contract with Whitefish Energy

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority has cancelled a $300 million contract that the utility had entered into with Montana-based Whitefish Energy Holdings, according to multiple press reports on Oct. 29.

The announcement by PREPA Executive Director Ricardo Ramos followed on the heels of news earlier in the day that Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said he was asking PREPA’s board to immediately cancel the contract with Whitefish.

Congress seeks answers

Prior to the contract’s cancellation, several members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Oct. 26 sent a letter to Whitefish related to the PREPA contract. Among other things, the letter asked Whitefish to provide a briefing for committee staff by Nov. 9. The letter also asked for Whitefish to provide the committee with documents and information as outlined in the letter in advance of the briefing.

“Energy and Commerce is conducting oversight of the United States’ response and recovery efforts related to the devastating hurricanes that impacted U.S. states and territories this year,” the letter said.

“We understand Whitefish is focused on the critical task of restoring power for the population of Puerto Rico. In light of the questions that have been raised about your company’s involvement in recovery efforts, however, it is important to develop a clear understanding of the facts,” the House lawmakers said.

Signatories to the letter were House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr., D-N.J., Energy Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., Energy Subcommittee Ranking Member Bobby Rush, D-Ill., and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette, D-Colo.

Also on Oct. 26, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., sent a letter to PREPA’s Ramos asking for additional details about the Whitefish contract. Westerman is chairman of the Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Meanwhile, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, on Oct. 26 wrote to Comptroller General Eugene Dodaro asking the Government Accountability Office to investigate the contract between PREPA and Whitefish Energy Holdings.

On Oct. 25, the Puerto Rico Oversight Board said it would appoint retired Air Force Col. Noel Zamot to oversee the rebuilding of Puerto Rico’s grid and operations of PREPA. The oversight board was set up in 2016 through the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, or PROMESA.

Bloomberg reported on Oct. 26 that Rosselló planned to appeal the oversight board’s decision to appoint Zamot.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides update

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or USACE, has a Federal Emergency Management Agency mission assignment to lead planning, coordination and integration efforts in preparation to execute electrical power grid repair in Puerto Rico due to impacts caused by Maria.

USACE on Oct. 28 provided an update related to Maria recovery efforts.

USACE temporary emergency power planning and response teams are assisting with assessments and generator installations at critical facilities in Puerto Rico.

As of the Oct. 28 update, there have been 818 requests for generator assessments with 704 completed and 292 installed.

Also, as of the date of the update, installed generators produce over 74.9 MW of electricity per day and there have been 23 instances in which teams were rerouted during a mission due to an emergency generator repair request, which vary from simple refuel missions to large muscle movements requiring coordination of ground and air assets.

USACE noted that a PREPA report shows load is 27.60% of the average pre-storm load.

As of the Oct. 28 update, there were 403 crews, with three to five people each, which include PREPA, which is a public power utility, USACE and other contractors working on grid power restoration.

Public power utilities already on the ground

Several public power utilities have already sent crews to Puerto Rico to help with power restoration efforts. Four Florida utilities have sent crews: JEA, Kissimmee Utility Authority, Orlando Utilities Commission and Lakeland Electric.

JEA has set up a diary on its website that details the efforts of its personnel on the island to assist with restoration efforts. More than 40 JEA personnel have traveled to Puerto Rico to help rebuild the island’s electric infrastructure.

The New York Power Authority also previously sent crews to Puerto Rico to provide mutual aid, supporting damage assessments and restoration efforts. The initial set of NYPA personnel that traveled to Puerto Rico in the wake of Maria has since returned to New York State.

On Oct. 29, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted that his state was deploying additional utility crews and equipment to help restore power on the island.

And, in a Q&A with CNN Anchor Fredricka Whitfield on Oct. 29, Cuomo discussed Puerto Rico’s ongoing restoration efforts.

According to a transcript of the interview, Cuomo said that he could “send down hundreds of utility crews” to Puerto Rico from New York to assist with recovery efforts.