The head of Puerto Rico’s power utility resigned Friday while facing scrutiny for the slow progress being made on restoring the island’s power grid eight weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory.
Ricardo Ramos, executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), submitted his resignation, effective immediately, to the utility’s board.
His sudden departure comes days after Ramos testified before the Senate over a controversial $300 million contract he signed with a small Montana firm to restore power to the island territory.
The contract, which Puerto Rico officials canceled after the hearing, was suspect because the bankrupt utility chose Whitefish Energy over larger firms with lower rates and more experience in dealing with disaster-stricken areas, according to The Washington Post.
After Ramos’ resignation was announced, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló recommended that the PREPA board of directors appoint Justo González, who’s served the authority since 1989, as interim director.
Rosselló told news reporters in Puerto Rico that Ramos is a professional and has worked hard in repairing the island’s power grid, but described his tenure as “unsustainable” and a distraction for recovery efforts.
“This designation will begin the process of evaluating the best available candidates, from both inside and outside Puerto Rico, in order to go ahead and name a permanent executive director for PREPA,” Rosselló said after recommending González.
“I trust that this process will occur as fast as possible and will not affect the work of rehabilitating the electricity system across the island.”
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, an outspoken voice for more support during Puerto Rico’s recovery, said that Ramos “helped destroy the credibility of the PR government” and called him “a disgrace.”
In his hearing with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this week, Ramos defended his contract with Whitefish Energy, saying that he chose the firm after reviewing “a half-dozen proposals” and found that Whitefish and another firm were the only two that offered immediate services that Puerto Rico desperately needed.
“I chose to contract with Whitefish because my priority was securing the immediate assistance of first responders that we desperately needed,” he said in a prepared statement.
Ramos added that he believed PREPA was unable to meet the requirements for mutual assistance with other public utility companies, “such as providing accommodations for workers and other logistics.”
Ramos also said that PREPA didn’t have enough supplies for their own crews, let alone another firms.
“We had no fuel, no phone, no internet. No nothing,” Ramos said to the committee, according to The New York Times. “How could I bring more people into that situation?”
On Wednesday, a major blackout shuttered San Juan, the island’s capital and most populous city, and surrounding areas hours after officials announced that Puerto Rico had reached its goal of having 50 percent of its power generation restored, ABC News reported. The blackout dropped the island’s power generation down to 22 percent.
As of Friday, two months after Maria hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane, PREPA has restored up to 43 percent of the island’s power.