SMELL TEST: Experts in the field said Whitefish significantly over-inflated its fees, almost 17 times the average salary of Puerto Rico-based linemen.
SAN JUAN — The Montana energy company that was awarded a contract to repair Puerto Rico’s power grid in the wake of Hurricane Maria is facing scrutiny over the amount of money it has charged the island’s state-run utility, according to a report in The New York Times.
Whitefish Energy Holdings is found to be charging the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) $319 an hour per linemen, significantly more than the hourly wages the company is paying the Florida-hired workers, the Times reported.
Experts in the field told the magazine that the figure was overinflated for emergency work, almost 17 times the average salary of Puerto Rico-based linemen.
Chris Chiames, a spokesman for the company, said that “simply looking at the rate differential does not take into account Whitefish’s overhead costs.”
“We have to pay a premium to entice the labor to come to Puerto Rico to work,” Chiames told the newspaper.
Prepa, though insisting the $300-million contract with whitefish was above board, canceled the agreement on request from the governor.
The New York Times also reported that Governor Ricardo Rossello is seeking to trim his cabinet after he demanded that the cabinet submit undated letters of resignation to his office.
Whitefish’s contract is being investigated along with all other Puerto Rico contracts, the Times reported. But, the company will continue to repair power lines on the island until Nov. 30.
When Prepa awarded the contract to Whitefish, they only had two full-time employees at the time and had never undertaken a contract of that size.
PREPA’s grid is currently working at 47 percent of its capacity, according to statistics from the Puerto Rican government.
At least 50 percent of the grid being offline has left the majority of Puerto Ricans using generators and solar panel or without power for the last seven weeks.
A major power line failure on Thursday temporarily reduced the grid’s online capacity to 18 percent.
The island is still struggling to water pumps, cell phone towers, roads and bridges.