On Sunday night, The New York Times reported that novice energy firm Whitefish Energy was wildly overcharging the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) for the hourly rate it paid line workers.
Whitefish Energy Holdings only had two employees when it was awarded a $300 million contract to restore electricity to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. To meet the shortfall, Whitefish hired contractors from Florida at rates varying from $42 per hour to $100 per hour with an average hourly rate of $63.
However, the company’s “shocking” contract allowed it to bill PREPA $319 per worker per hour.
The Times spoke to industry experts who said that $319 per hour is far, far above the norm about amounts to about 17 times what a Puerto Rican worker would make performing the same job.
Whitefish spokesman Chris Chiames told the Times that the company had to make the jobs competitive to attract labor from around the region.
“We have to pay a premium to entice the labor to come to Puerto Rico to work,” Chiames claimed, but declined to explain the average of $256 that was disappearing between PREPA’s payouts and the pockets of Whitefish’s linemen.
The company had its contract revoked after San Juan’s Mayor Carmen Julín Cruz challenged the company and called for transparency regarding Whitefish’s deal with the federal government.
Millions of Puerto Ricans had power restored briefly by Whitefish only to have the repaired line fail again this week, returning them to life without electricity. More than 80 percent of the island is still without electricity nearly two months after Hurricane Maria made landfall.