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Whitefish charged Puerto Rico unusually high $300 per hour for workers

14 November 2017

The Times reports Whitefish Energy Holding's contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) allowed it to charge at a rate that was "almost 17 times the average salary of their counterparts in Puerto Rico" while paying electrical workers from Kissimmee $42 per hour plus overtime.

Mammoth Energy has 250 linemen in Puerto Rico rebuilding the power lines at the rate of $4,000 each per day. According to the latest official figures, capacity is now back up to nearly 48%, after the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) fixed it. Documents indicate that Whitefish would still keep one dollar of every two it billed Prepa, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. A spokesman for Whitefish, Chris Chiames, defended the costs, saying that "simply looking at the rate differential does not take into account Whitefish's overhead costs", which were built into the rate.

"The rates in the contract were fairly negotiated between Prepa and the company and were based on the mutual knowledge about the difficulty of the work and associated risks", Chiames told the Times. And as part of our union contract, for storm work we are required to pay overtime 100% of the time.

The Times spoke to six electrical workers from Kissimmee, Fla., who are now working on bringing electricity back to the island. The Cobra contract was signed just a few days after the Whitefish contract, and PREPA put down a $15 million deposit to start work on the grid, even though the contract didn't go through a bidding process. Reasons for criticism were varied.

That contract was cancelled after questions about how it received the contract when it emerged that it was based in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose son once worked for Whitefish.

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More than half of Puerto Rico's power grid remains offline, seven weeks after Hurricane Maria caused massive damage to the US territory. The Department of the Interior and the company's chief executive both denied that anything inappropriate in relation to the contract had occurred. The deal is now being investigated by at least four congressional committees, the Department of Homeland Security's inspector-general, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The contract was awarded shortly after Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico. Some areas affected by the Thursday outage had reportedly only enjoyed a return to electricity for less than a week before it once again disappeared.

Power company AEE Generation said Sunday that 47.8% was restored.

Last week, much of Puerto Rico, including its capital San Juan, experienced another major blackout after a major north-south transition line (repaired by Whitefish) energy had failed.

Whitefish charged Puerto Rico unusually high $300 per hour for workers