Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Whitefish Charges Puerto Rico $319 an Hour for Linemen, Then Pays Them $63 an Hour

Popular
Whitefish Charges Puerto Rico $319 an Hour for Linemen, Then Pays Them $63 an Hour
Trees and power lines were downed by Hurricane Maria. U.S. Air Force / SSgt.Michelle Y. Alvarez-Rea

Whitefish Energy, the controversial energy firm repairing Puerto Rico's hurricane-wrecked power grid, is under fresh scrutiny for charging the island's power authority hundreds of dollars more per hour than its linemen receive.

The New York Times reported that the tiny Montana-based company—which doesn't have many of its own employees—contracted electrical workers from Florida at rates that range from $42 to $100 per hour, with an average rate of $63. Whitefish, however, has been charging the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) $319 an hour for each worker.


The Times pointed out that $319 per hour is wildly above the industry standard, even for emergency work. Notably, the rate is 17 times higher than what it would have cost to hire a lineman in Puerto Rico.

Whitefish spokesman Chris Chiames defended its costs to the newspaper, explaining that "simply looking at the rate differential does not take into account Whitefish's overhead costs" built into the rate.

"We have to pay a premium to entice the labor to come to Puerto Rico to work," Chiames said, adding that many workers are being paid overtime.

Whitefish is also billing PREPA about $4,000 an hour to rent a helicopter—more than double what is typically charged.

On top of that, the Whitefish contract states: "In no event shall [government bodies] have the right to audit or review the cost and profit elements."

Whitefish's $300 million contract was canceled by Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló in late October after questions were raised about how the two-year-old firm from Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke's hometown landed such a lucrative, no-bid contract. However, they still have until Nov. 30 to work even after the cancellation.

Whitefish employed only two full-time staff members before the Category 4 hurricane struck Puerto Rico on Sept. 20. The FBI is now investigating the contract.

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. The island was left with only 18 percent power generation on Thursday.

The power outage was another reminder of the island's painstaking recovery more than fifty days after Hurricane Maria struck. One resident said it was "hard not to feel discouraged" and called the power failure "one step forward and three steps back."

As of Sunday, about 48 percent of electricity has returned.

By Frank La Sorte and Kyle Horton

Millions of birds travel between their breeding and wintering grounds during spring and autumn migration, creating one of the greatest spectacles of the natural world. These journeys often span incredible distances. For example, the Blackpoll warbler, which weighs less than half an ounce, may travel up to 1,500 miles between its nesting grounds in Canada and its wintering grounds in the Caribbean and South America.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Kevin Maillefer / Unsplash

By Lynne Peeples

Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.

In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Eat Just's cell-based chicken nugget is now served at Singapore restaurant 1880. Eat Just, Inc.

At a time of impending global food scarcity, cell-based meats and seafood have been heralded as the future of food.

Read More Show Less
New Zealand sea lions are an endangered species and one of the rarest species of sea lions in the world. Art Wolfe / Photodisc / Getty Images

One city in New Zealand knows what its priorities are.

Dunedin, the second largest city on New Zealand's South Island, has closed a popular road to protect a mother sea lion and her pup, The Guardian reported.

Read More Show Less

piyaset / iStock / Getty Images Plus

In an alarming new study, scientists found that climate change is already harming children's diets.

Read More Show Less