Ricardo Ramos, who has been the head of Puerto Rico’s public utility company, PREPA, resigned Friday after failing to restore the power grid due to a series of questionable decisions. The governor called him “a distraction” from the island’s efforts to rebuild after the Hurricane Maria disaster, and many more have shamed him on social media.
It’s been almost two months since the hurricane, but PREPA hasn’t done a very good job of restoring anything. Less than half the island has power currently, and even the cities that have managed to regain their electricity, are known to have major blackouts. This has led to an even bigger problem: the lack of power is the main reason the island has had to sustain $20-$40 billion in economic losses.
Not that it’s the fault of Ramos completely. PREPA was in a bad state for a long time. The ancient power grid needed expensive shipments of imported oil to operate, and after selling bonds for years, it filed for bankruptcy-type protection in July. It also currently owes billions to Wall Street.
But the story gets even worse.
After the hurricane, PREPA signed a $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy (despite warnings from staff and lawyers), a sketchy, tiny Montana company that wasn’t at all ready to handle Puerto Rico’s massive problems. The energy company charged them almost double the regular wages, higher-than-normal meal rates, and even struggled to get equipment on the island, forcing Puerto Rico to hire expensive charter flights.
Normally, during this type of a blackout, the local government works something out with experienced public US companies, and they restore power very cheaply. Instead, after the botched deal, PREPA was expecting to get reimbursed by FEMA’s (Federal Emergency Management Agency) grants.
Now that this has all been exposed, Puerto Rico’s government has become even less credible in the eyes of both the federal government and the American public, thanks to the efforts of Ramos. One representative even said, “Given the substantial amounts of taxpayer dollars that will be invested in Puerto Rico for rebuilding after Hurricane Maria, these findings raise grave concerns about PREPA’s ability to competently negotiate, manage, and implement critical infrastructure projects without significant independent oversight,” investigators wrote in a memo Monday to committee chair Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT).
Worst of all, however, is that we still don’t have a solution to Puerto Rico’s energy crisis.
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