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Chief Of Puerto Rico's Power Authority Resigns Under Fire

A lineman from the Electric Power Authority repairs distribution lines damaged by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

The head of Puerto Rico's power authority stepped down Friday amid controversy over his handling of a system that still can't deliver electricity to that island two months after Hurricane Maria destroyed the power grid.

Ricardo Ramos, executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, resigned as he was unable to shake off questions about a $300 million contract that he had awarded to Whitefish, a small Montana-based energy firm, that was supposed to restore power on the island.

In prepared testimony at a Senate hearing this week, Ramos said he chose Whitefish because "my priority was securing the immediate assistance that we needed to begin restoring power as quickly as possible to our most critical customer." But reports of price markups and other problems about the firm's ability to do the job continued to dog Ramos.

As NPR's Greg Allen reports:

"Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Rossello last month ordered the head of Puerto Rico's power authority, PREPA, to cancel the contract with Whitefish. ... Today, El Vocero newspaper reported PREPA head Ricardo Ramos had awarded a $100,000 consulting contract to a lawyer named in a previous corruption investigation.

"The governor said he's canceling that contract and had asked for Ramos' resignation. Under Ramos, the Governor said, 'There were a series of distractions and a decision was taken to go in another direction.'

"Nearly two months after Hurricane Maria, most of the island remains without power. On Wednesday, hours after the governor announced electricity generation was back to 50 percent of pre-storm capacity, a major transmission line failed for the second time in a week."

The Wall Street Journal reports that the FBI is investigating PREPA's deal with Whitefish.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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