Millions of Puerto Ricans are again without power after a high-voltage transmission line that had been repaired by Whitefish Energy, a Montana contractor now facing an FBI investigation, failed again Wednesday.
The outage comes at an especially embarrassing time, following an announcement from government officials that they had restored electricity to 50 percent of utility customers.
Minutes after announcing it had reached its goal of 50% power generation in Puerto Rico, a massive outage swept San Juan this morning.— Frances Robles (@FrancesRobles) November 15, 2017
This new blackout comes after an outage on November 9 that sank power generation across the island from 40 percent to 18 percent, a major blow to the island’s recovery after Hurricane Maria struck nearly two months ago.
PREPA reports power out in Puerto Rico due to “failure of the Cambalache Manatee 230KV line”— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) November 15, 2017
*This is the same line where there was failure last week
-Yesterday, PREPA boss Ricardo Ramos said last weeks outage was caused by a “crane”, signaling human error caused it
And so again the majority of the island’s 3.4 million residents are again without power, extending what was already the longest power outage in US history.
Without electricity, many health and sanitation systems will go offline or go back to relying on diesel-powered generators.
As Vox has reported, Puerto Rico’s electric grid was vulnerable and dilapidated before the storm due to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s long history of financial woes and minimal maintenance and investment. But since the storm, the rebuilding of the grid has been further compromised by questionable decisions.
The largest repair contract, valued at $300 million, was awarded to Whitefish, then a two-person company, rather than invoking mutual aid agreements with other utilities as power companies in Florida and Texas did after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.
The power line that has failed in Puerto Rico (Cambalache Mantaí 230KV line) appears to be a line where @WhitefishEnergy did work, as recently as October 25th.— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) November 9, 2017
Municipalities in the North have been affected.
It could be tonight or tomorrow morning before power is restored., pic.twitter.com/iJffaSaZNm
The deal drew scrutiny from lawmakers and was later canceled. The line that failed in both blackouts had been repaired by Whitefish, according to a company press release. A spokesperson for the company told BuzzFeed last week that the company was not responsible for the blackout.
"None of the issues reported today with the outage have anything to do with the repairs Whitefish Energy performed," he said.
Legislators on Tuesday grilled Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and PREPA executive director Ricardo Ramos over the Whitefish deal as new documents showed exorbitant billing rates from the contractor and incompetence on the part of the government.