Puerto Rico utility head resigns after gradual Hurricane Maria response

The top of Puerto Rico’s indebted utility has resigned following criticism of the gradual restoration of energy to the island after Hurricane Maria, the U.S. territory’s governor mentioned.

Ricardo Ramos, who was named head of the Puerto Rico Electrical Energy Authority (PREPA) in 2016, was additionally criticized over controversial contracts. His resignation was efficient Friday, Governor Ricardo Rossello mentioned in an announcement.

Rossello really useful Justo Gonzalez as interim director, in response to a separate assertion. Gonzalez is at the moment director of energy technology at PREPA, a task he took on in April 2017. Gonzalez beforehand was the corporate’s planning and environmental safety director and operations supervisor of the Aguirre Steam Plant.

PREPA’s board will meet afterward Friday to debate who will succeed Ramos, who was appointed by Rossello.

Rossello mentioned he supported a search inside and out of doors Puerto Rico to fill the function completely.

“I’m hoping they do it as shortly as potential,” mentioned Jose Roman Morales, interim chairman of Puerto Rico’s power fee, which regulates PREPA.

Ramos was not instantly out there for remark.

Maria knocked out energy to all three.four million residents of Puerto Rico in late September, and solely about half the island’s energy has been restored. The island has additionally skilled intermittent energy interruptions to populated areas that had seen electricity restored over the previous few weeks.

In a webcast replace on restoration efforts, Ramos mentioned that 50.5 % of technology had been restored as of Friday, and extra traces have been repaired that haven’t but been charged to supply electrical energy.

“The best peak of technology that now we have had is 50 %. On this week, we had about three basic blackouts within the island that saved San Juan at nighttime for a lot of the week. That’s completely unacceptable,” mentioned Tomas Torres, govt director of the nonprofit Institute for Competitiveness and Sustainable Economic system for Puerto Rico.

It took per week earlier than PREPA was capable of assess the damages from the storm, which knocked out about 80 % of its transmission capabilities.

Ramos was criticized for signing a $300 million contract with a little-known Montana firm, Whitefish Vitality, to revive energy, and since he didn’t request help from U.S. utilities that may be a regular process following storms.

Per week after the storm, the Federal Emergency Administration Company put the U.S. Military Corps of Engineers accountable for restoring energy, which is often the accountability of the native utility. The Corps has been working with a number of utilities, together with PREPA.

On Oct. 31, the governor mentioned early efforts had fallen brief and at last turned to U.S. utilities for help, asking for lots of of crews and huge fleets of vehicles to restore the grid.

Transmission traces weaving by the mountainous heart of the island have been lower off by the hurricane, which hammered the island with winds as much as 155 miles per hour (250 km per hour) when it made landfall on Sept. 20.

PREPA has been hampered by years of underinvestment and frequent turnover in administration, and inefficient collections that compelled it to go deeply into debt. The utility had incurred about $9 billion in debt earlier than declaring chapter in July.

Regulators, together with U.S. Congressional committees and the island’s power fee, are investigating PREPA’s response and the contracts it awarded to Whitefish, together with a $200 million take care of Cobra Acquisitions, a subsidiary of Mammoth Vitality Companies Inc.

“There are certified folks at PREPA to function director, in the event that they take the political part out of it,” mentioned Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo, president of UTIER, the union representing PREPA’s staff. Complexities of Puerto Rico’s grid make it troublesome for an outsider to tackle the function, however something is feasible, he mentioned.

For a graphic on a number of corporations restoring electrical energy in Puerto Rico, click on here.

For a graphic on Puerto Rico’s gradual energy restoration, click on here.

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