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Puerto Rico is in blackout again after power line fixed by Whitefish fails

Vox.com logo Vox.com 11/10/2017 Umair Irfan

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A major outage has plunged more than 80 percent of the island back into darkness.

Millions of Puerto Ricans are again without power after a high-voltage transmission line that had been repaired by Whitefish Energy, a Montana contractor now facing an FBI investigation, failed Thursday.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority reported that power generation across the island plummeted from 40 percent to 18 percent on Thursday, a major blow to the island’s recovery after Hurricane Maria struck 50 days ago.

That means that the vast majority of the island’s 3.4 million residents are again without power, extending what was already the longest power outage in US history. The blackout struck the northern part of the island, including parts of the capital, San Juan.

Without electricity, many health and sanitation systems will go offline or go back to relying on diesel-powered generators.

As Vox has reported, Puerto Rico’s electric grid was vulnerable and dilapidated before the storm due to PREPA’s long history of financial woes and minimal maintenance and investment. But since the storm, the rebuilding of the grid has been further compromised by questionable decisions.

The largest repair contract, valued at $300 million, was awarded to Whitefish, then a two-person company, rather than invoking mutual aid agreements with other utilities as power companies in Florida and Texas did after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

The deal drew scrutiny from lawmakers and was later canceled. The line that failed Thursday had been repaired by Whitefish, according to a company press release. A spokesperson for the company told BuzzFeed that the company was not responsible for the blackout.

"None of the issues reported today with the outage have anything to do with the repairs Whitefish Energy performed," he said.

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