Puerto Rico Utility Head Resigns, Leaves The Lights Off For 'Em

It's Deddy Kilowatt time in Puerto Rico, kids!

With power only restored to about half of Puerto Rico -- at least between blackouts -- the director of the bankrupt territory-owned electric utility has resigned. Ricardo Ramos, who oversaw awarding that $300 million no-bid contract to grifty Montana contractor Whitefish Energy shortly after Hurricane Maria -- has stepped down as head of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), and will now presumably slink off into the darkness. Ramos hit the road as congressional committees, the FBI, and the inspector general of Homeland Security have all launched investigations into the Whitefish deal.

Oh, yes, and on top of the important question of whether PREPA's deal with Whitefish was corrupt or merely incredibly inept (why not both?) there was one more little thing hanging over Ramos, as the Washington Post reports:

Prior to the announcement of Ramos’ resignation, local newspaper El Vocero had reported on Friday that Ramos had awarded a nearly $100,000 contract to an attorney for consulting work just days after Hurricane Irma brushed past Puerto Rico. It was the same attorney Ramos previously had tried to appoint as sub-director of the power company. Rossello said that contract also will be reviewed.

Hmmmm. Ramos dutifully insisted on Facebook, you'll be glad to know, that "Absolutely nothing was done outside the law."

It's been a rough week for electricity in Puerto Rico; on Wednesday, Governor Ricardo Rosselló tweeted that electricity had finally been restored to 50% of the island's utility customers, just before a huge power outage hit San Juan, leaving only 25% of Puerto Rico with power. For the second time within a week, because the power line that failed was once again the "Cambalache Manatee" line that Whitefish had repaired, and which went kerflooey (the technical term) last Thursday as well. WaPo notes that there have been two additional blackouts since crews began working to re-repair the line that went out this week. This is probably not a good moment for folks in San Juan to be taking on any projects that require a lot of power, like using power tools to rebuild their ruined houses, or kidney dialysis.

Ramos said, before bolting for the door, that the recent blackouts had resulted from problems like overgrown vegetation or spotty delivery of fuel to power stations.

Gov. Rosselló really gave Ramos a vote of confidence as he booted him back into the private sector, telling reporters

that Ramos is a professional who worked hard to bring power back to Puerto Rico, but that “there were a series of distractions, and a decision was taken to go in another direction.”

“That resignation was taken ... in the best interest of the people of Puerto Rico,” he said, adding that an interim director would soon be appointed.

We suppose a bunch of power failures, a sketchy-as-hell contract that happened to be awarded to a guy who's a pal of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and inflated fees and rumors of kickbacks would definitely count as "distractions," all right.

An interim director of PREPA should be named soon, and Rosselló said he hopes the utility will have power restored to 80 percent of the island by the end of November, and all the way up to 95 percent by mid-December. The Army Corps of Engineers, however, was a bit less optimistic, forecasting only about 75 percent restoration of power by the end of January.

You know, somebody in the federal government probably should act as if it were some kind of priority to get the power back on for all American citizens following a natural disaster. We're fairly certain if this were happening in Houston or Florida, it wouldn't be a matter of guessing about whether partial repairs will take weeks or months. We wonder what could be different about Puerto Rico? Probably just the whole "middle of the ocean" thing.

Still, things are definitely looking up for Puerto Rico. Just as long as the island's birds follow the emergency orders not to land on any power lines.

[WaPo / Vox / Grist]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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