Last week, a small Montana company called Whitefish Energy Holdings announced that it had been given a $300 million contract by Puerto Rico’s electricity authority to help restore the power grid on the island, where some 75 percent of customers remain without power.
The decision to award such a big contract – and such an enormous challenge – to a tiny company founded just two years ago has surprised many. Power companies don’t generally use contractors to restore electricity, but make arrangements for help from other utilities.
Puerto Rico’s power grid was precarious even before Hurricane Maria made landfall a month ago. But since the storm, the problem is immense. It could take at least six months for service to be fully restored.
Whitefish Energy is tasked with rebuilding three to four transmission lines, or more than 100 miles of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA)’s 2,500 miles of lines. Montana newspaper Flathead Beacon called it “a windfall for the relatively untested” company.
The firm’s website offers little detail on the company or its track record. It’s based in Whitefish, Mont., the hometown of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Its financing comes from two Dallas-based investment groups and a Brazilian company that produces distribution and power transformers.
A profile of the company on a site that tracks federal contracts lists Whitefish as having just two employees and $1 million in annual revenue.
So why was it given such a big, expensive job?
PREPA’s chief executive officer Ricardo Ramos describes the choice as a matter of timing and convenience.
“We knew there was going to be a direct hit, so we wanted as much resources as possible,” Ramos told NPR. “Their name popped up on several fronts.”
Ramos says PREPA received bids from a few companies in the lull between Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. The utility, which filed for bankruptcy in July, shortlisted two, including Whitefish.
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SOURCE: NPR, Nicky Ouellet and Laurel Wamsley