The Montana energy company that was awarded a contract to repair Puerto Rico’s power grid in the wake of Hurricane Maria is facing scrutiny over the amount of money it has charged the island’s state-run utility, according to a report from The New York Times.
Whitefish Energy Holdings had a contract allowing it to charge the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) $319 an hour for linemen it had hired from Florida to help restore the island’s grid, an amount that far exceed the hourly wages Whitefish was paying the linemen, the Times reported.
According to the newspaper, senior linemen from Lakeland, Fla., are earning $63 an hour as part of their contract with Whitefish. Some linemen are making $42 an hour plus overtime, while others are earning up to $100 double time.
Energy industry experts told the Times that $319 an hour is abnormally high for emergency work. Now, federal officials are looking into other contracts involving Puerto Rico, the newspaper reported.
The Montana-based company has defended the amount charged. Chris Chiames, a Whitefish spokesman, said that “simply looking at the rate differential does not take into account Whitefish’s overhead costs,” according to the Times.
“We have to pay a premium to entice the labor to come to Puerto Rico to work,” Chiames told the newspaper.
The report comes after it was revealed last month that the FBI is investigating the $300 million contract awarded to the company.
The deal drew scrutiny, with critics saying Whitefish lacked the experience to work on such a large-scale emergency project.
In October, PREPA announced it had accepted the governor’s request to immediately cancel its contract with Whitefish.
Whitefish and PREPA have defended the deal and said there was nothing illegal or improper about it.
The company will continue repairing power lines on the island until Nov. 30, according to the Times.