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Whitefish Energy winds down its grid repair work in Puerto Rico

Whitefish Energy Holdings LLC, the contractor behind a controversial grid restoration deal with Puerto Rico's main electric utility, will wrap up its work on the island by the end of November after briefly halting repairs.

Montana-based Whitefish has been working in Puerto Rico since early October to help the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, recover from Hurricane Maria, which knocked out power to nearly the entire island in September. Whitefish temporarily suspended transmission line work on Nov. 20, citing PREPA's failure to pay more than $83 million in invoices, but resumed repairs two days later after the utility released a payment to the company.

PREPA, which filed for bankruptcy in July, came under heavy fire for signing a $300 million grid repair contract with Whitefish, a small company with no prior experience working in Puerto Rico. The utility eventually moved to terminate the agreement, tendering its 30-day cancellation notice to the company in late October, and to enlist help from other utilities through an industry-backed mutual assistance program.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other government partners also are aiding PREPA's power restoration efforts.

Both Whitefish and PREPA's former Executive Director Ricardo Ramos have defended the contract, saying Whitefish's proposed repair rates were in line with offers from other parties and that the company was able to provide services and logistics for its contractors and other repair workers that PREPA and most competing firms could not.

Almost 58% of Puerto Rico's normal prestorm peak load had been restored as of Nov. 27, and 59 of 78 municipalities "are partially energized or have energized facilities," the U.S. Department of Energy reported. For its part, Whitefish has performed critical work on several main transmission lines in Puerto Rico in order to complete a "loop" to manage the flow of power from the southern part of the island, where most power plants are located, to population centers in the north.

As of Nov. 21, more than 3,000 people were dedicated to power restoration efforts in Puerto Rico, the Edison Electric Institute said. The group did not respond immediately with an updated headcount, but Whitefish spokesman Chris Chiames said "several of the Florida-based utility companies have left the island ahead of the Nov. 30 wind down" of the company's work.