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Published on November 21st, 2017 | by Tina Casey


Puerto Rico Power Restoration Hits The Whitefish Energy Wall, Again

November 21st, 2017 by  

Fully two months after Hurricane Maria made mincemeat out of Puerto Rico’s power grid, many of the US territory’s residents are still in the dark. In the latest development, the now-infamous company Whitefish Energy has prematurely halted work on power restoration, reportedly because PREPA, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, can’t pay its bills.

Puerto Rico And The Whitefish Energy Debacle

For those of you new to the Whitefish angle on Puerto Rico, that’s the Montana-based company which got the jump on securing a huge power restoration contract shortly after Hurricane Maria. In fact, so far, the Whitefish contract is the largest single contract issued by PREPA.

Thanks to some sharp-eyed reporting over at The Weather Channel, the Whitefish contract quickly raised eyebrows all over the media landscape for a number of reasons, including the startlingly small size of the company, the lack of a track record in scale with its $300 million PREPA contract, and the onerous terms of the contract.

Eyebrows went up a few notches higher when Whitefish’s connection to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke came to light. They reached the upper atmosphere when connections to Republican donors surfaced, and positively went into stratospheric territory when it was revealed that PREPA had neglected to run the contract by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

If you’re counting on FEMA to reimburse you for the cost of restoring electricity, then you need them to approve your contracts, so there’s that.

Whitefish Energy Keeps On Keepin’ On…

After the Whitefish shenanigans came to light, last month, PREPA announced that it would take steps to cancel the contract.

That can’t be accomplished at the snap of a finger. Under the terms of its contract, Whitefish has continued to finish up work underway.

That includes a section of power line that failed after repairs were made, leading to yet another major blackout.

…Until It Doesn’t

The saga of Whitefish Energy apparently came to a close yesterday. Bloomberg reported that PREPA already owes the company $83 million, and it seems that PREPA does not have the wherewithal to pay off.

So, 10 days ahead of its expected stop-work date, Whitefish is bowing out:

A Nov. 19 letter from Whitefish to the bankrupt utility, which was obtained by Bloomberg News, demands payment for work it has performed — and also more than $39 million “for anticipated demobilization costs.”

Whitefish’s last press release was posted back on November 3, so no official word yet from the company.

So … Where’s The Cavalry?

The US Department of Defense is a forceful presence in humanitarian relief around the globe. If the Commander-in-Chief would turn to the armed services for at least a temporary fix in parts of Puerto Rico, the Defense Department could call upon its growing expertise in renewable energy and microgrids.

The Marine Corps and other branches of the armed services have been developing portable and transportable microgrid systems that leverage solar energy and wind energy. Some of these systems are designed for deployment in forward operating bases in war zones, so it’s not a stretch to modify them for civilian disaster relief.

In one of the most recent developments on that score, the US Army Corps of Engineers has commissioned a new “self-forming” transportable microgrid system with renewable energy capability, from the up-and-coming energy solutions company Go Electric.

For now, though, the task of restoring power at scale mainly looks to be a matter of reconstructing the conventional power grid.

Whitefish may be out of the picture, but back in October, the US Army Corps of Engineers began issuing contracts for power restoration with other, more experienced companies. The work is underway with an assist from the US Department of Energy and FEMA as well as PREPA personnel.

The workforce also includes members of the USACE 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power), which is a “versatile power generation battalion” tasked with the “rapid provision of Army generators to support worldwide requirements.”

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Photo (cropped): Whitefish Energy via Facebook.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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