An employee of the New York company Con Edison works to restore electricity cables damaged by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Thursday. Photo by Thais Llorca/EPA-EFE
Nov. 17 (UPI) -- Ricardo Ramos, the executive director of Puerto Rico's power authority, resigned Friday as the island grapples with restoring electricity months after Hurricane Maria.
The head of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Agency issued his resignation letter to Gov. Ricardo Rossello days after they both testified to the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee. The panel questioned Ramos and Rossello about the granting of a $300 million contract to Whitefish Energy Holdings to restore power.
Federal officials criticized the contract because the Montana firm was new and had two employees. Documents revealed PREPA disregarded its own lawyers' advice when it agreed to sign the contract.
The language in the contract could have prevented federal oversight of the work and the value of the contract, which the Puerto Rican government has since withdrawn, suggesting massive overcharges by Whitefish.
Ramos defended the contract Tuesday before the Senate, saying of the "half-dozen" proposals he received to restore power, two had "the immediate services" needed. The other would have required a guaranteed payment of $25 million.
"I therefore authorized our contracting staff to execute a contract with Whitefish while we continued to seek additional assistance from others for the complete, multibillion dollar restoration effort still to come," Ramos said. "In retrospect, there are some steps in our contracting process with Whitefish that we could have done better."
Rossello did not announce a replacement for Ramos. The governor said Ramos' resignation was "in the best interest of the people of Puerto Rico" because he had become a distraction.
"The director is a professional. A time has come when it is unsustainable, and for the benefit of the people of Puerto Rico, that decision was made. I'm not focused on past actions, I'm focused on the future. I expect an effective, immediate transition, that we can continue with the pace of restoring energy," Rossello said.
Rossello had hoped to have 50 percent of the power restored on the island as of this month, but it stands at 43 percent as of Friday.