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Whitefish Puerto Rico Contract Cancelled, Now How About Letting Renewable Industry Leaders Step in?

At this blog I often cover how climate change is worsening the global weather situation. How fossil fuel burning is the primary cause of climate change. How renewable energy adoption is the primary means for removing global carbon emissions. And how bad, on our present track, climate change outcomes could become.

What I often do not talk about in main posts (though we see quite a bit in the comments section) is how underlying factors such as political corruption and the ideologies supportiing that corruption can harm effective responses to climate change.

Witness Puerto Rico. A U.S. territory that has suffered a very severe blow from one of the worst hurricanes ever to make landfall in the Caribbean. A storm fed by the warming waters of human caused climate change which were, in turn, fed by a rampant and harmful climate change denial afflicting a number of our powerful political leaders.

There, electricity has now been largely knocked out for more than a month. U.S. Citizens have been forced to go without water, power, and basic life-saving medical services. The Trump Administration’s response to the disaster could best be described as incompetent. More incompetent than the Bush Administration during Katrina. And that’s being generous.

Though people died during the storm, a far more substantial death toll is emerging due to the Administration’s lagging response. With 900 people now estimated to have perished as a result of life-threatening conditions due to a loss of infrastructure and due to Trump’s larger failure to rapidly deploy a necessary massive relief and restoration effort.

If this spiraling situation wasn’t bad enough, Trump Administration incompetence has been followed on by allegations of corruption. The most glaring example comes in the form of a recently cancelled 300 million dollar contract with Whitefish to restore power on Puerto Rico — a small contracting firm reported to have only two permanent employees, links to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and whose larger investors are known Trump donors.

Due to the fact that this contract appeared to contain a number of conflicts of interest that looked like a ‘pay for play’ arrangement, and due to concerns over a privatized grab for control of Puerto Rico’s energy grid, both Republican and Democratic leaders have called for an investigation into the power repair contract. FEMA had also flagged the contract for potential problems. Meanwhile, review of the contract has found a number of cases that could best be construed as over-charging. According to NPR:

Much of the controversy that has surrounded the contract has focused on the high rates Whitefish is charging for labor. The contract shows those labor rates are pricey indeed: $240 an hour for a general foreman and $227 for a lineman. The per diems are also expensive: almost $80 a day for meals, and $332 a day for lodging. Employee flights are billed at $1,000 each way. For subcontractors, the bulk of Whitefish’s workforce, the prices go even higher. A general foreman costs $336 an hour and a lineman, $319.

The combined allegations of corruption, overcharging, and various links to the Trump Administration are all hallmarks of vulture disaster capitalism — where private firms exploit government contracts following disasters or military conflict to bilk exorbitant sums from the government (and by extension the taxpayer) while providing only standard or substandard service. Such exploitation comes along with a policy push for privatization of previously provided government services. And there was serious concern that the Whitefish contract would result in just such a privatized electrical grid in Puerto Rico following over-charging and possible shoddy work.

Today, amid rising scandal, both Puerto Rico’s governor and the mayor of San Juan called for the cancellation of the Whitefish contract. Work already started by Whitefish will be completed — this includes refurbishing two major power lines. But the contract is expected to be awarded to a less shady agency going forward. San Juan’s mayor, on AM Joy today called for work to be led by companies like Tesla or Southern California Edison — both of which have substantial experience with both grids and renewables.

Tesla, for its own part, restored power for a children’s hospital by providing solar + power packs without any incentive. The renewable energy company has become increasingly involved in building power systems for islands and helping to stabilize grids through its renewables based energy storage. Tesla played a pivotal role in providing solar+battery based power for the Hawaiian island of Kauai. It has also worked with Australia to provide batteries to assist in grid stabilization activities.

Given Tesla’s long track record and due to the fact that Tesla workers were already on the ground helping Puerto Ricans, it was a no-brainer add this company to a mixed list of experienced corps in assisting the power restoration effort. In addition, renewable energy systems like those provided by Tesla help to mitigate the root causes of the climate change related extreme weather that has so terribly damaged Puerto Rico — putting of the U.S. citizens there in danger. A fact that was obviously missing in the decision to hire Whitefish — a company with practically zero renewable energy chops.

And it is here that we need to return to the basic problem that arises from having climate change deniers as leaders in government. First, such politicians tend to favor contracts by fossil fuel companies, or worse, by shady firms like Whitefish. They also tend to be ideologically opposed to actual functional government — which leads to harmful privatization, related over-charging, and exploitation following disasters. In other words, such ideologues on the right leave wide open the door to corruption by establishing links with shady corporations. Finally, they tend to block more upstanding corporate players like Southern California Edison and Tesla who have a track record for building public utilities up by establishing solid renewable energy systems rather than by tearing them down by seeking to ram through fossil fuel linked privatization.

RELATED STATEMENTS AND INFORMATION:

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Wili

 

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