Puerto Rico’s bankrupt utility agreed to pay Whitefish Energy double what linemen make, documents show

After Hurricane Maria knocked out electricity to millions of residents of Puerto Rico in September, the head of a small electric transmission company from Montana boasted that his firm could best manage the logistics of getting needed repairmen to the island.

“Please reply to this email with your approval, and we’ll start flooding you with resources,” Andy Techmanski, chief executive of Whitefish Energy Holdings, wrote to officials at Puerto Rico’s state-run utility eight days after the storm hit.

But within days of the utility approving a first payment of millions of dollars to Whitefish, Techmanski wrote of “problems with logistics.” He repeatedly pleaded for approval of costly airlifts of trucks that he said were stuck at ports in Florida.

“We have over 100 pieces of equipment staged in Jacksonville, that has backed up to the maximum threshold,” Techmanski wrote on Oct. 10, saying that shipping companies were “creating hurdles” by requiring information on cargo — insurance, registration and driver information — and it was taking days for Whitefish to get each truck cleared for shipping.

The emails were contained in more than 2,000 pages of internal company documents turned over to congressional investigators last week that capture the troubled relationship between the island’s bankrupt state-run utility and Whitefish Energy as they confronted a staggering electricity crisis that is now in its 54th day. The documents show how the tiny firm that won — and then lost — the largest contract to restore power in Puerto Rico struggled from Day One to live up to promises it was making to utility officials on the island. Even so, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, agreed repeatedly to requests for higher and higher prices for restoration work.

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