During a U.S. Senate hearing Tuesday, the head of Puerto Rico’s electric power authority, or PREPA, justified signing a controversial, $300 million contract with a small energy company in Montana.
PREPA executive director Ricardo Ramos testified about the now-cancelled contract with Whitefish Energy in front of the U.S. Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
“Taxpayer money was never at risk," he said. "There was never an expenditure of $300 million. They get paid when the line that they’re working on is finished and delivered to PREPA tested and energized. Then they send us an invoice for that portion and we pay.”
Whitefish Energy has been accused of overcharging PREPA for its services after a hurricane ravaged the U.S. territory. According to the New York Times, company linemen were paid $63 an hour, while PREPA was billed more than three times that for their services. But Ramos defended the high prices.
“I needed first responders," he said. "I requested six companies, the prices were very similar, we engaged one of them.”
Washington senator Maria Cantwell wasn’t sold on Ramos’ explanation, and called the contract an example of price gouging.
“If you would’ve raised that up the flagpole and said to the U.S. federal government, ‘should we be paying these rates?’ I doubt you’re going to find somebody who says ‘yes, let’s pay those rates,’” she said.
Last week, one of the lines Whitefish Energy repaired lost power. The line has since been fixed, and today Puerto Rico has almost half of its original power back.