In the wake of the controversy swirling around the $300 million contract the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority awarded Whitefish Energy to rebuild the network post-Hurricane María, the utility has been assigned a “Chief Transformation Officer” to oversee the work.
On Wednesday, the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico named Noel Zamot — a retired Air Force colonel who was born and raised on the island — to lead PREPA’s transformation and the rebuilding of the electricity sector.
His immediate priority will be to fast-track reconstruction efforts on the island in close coordination with the government of Puerto Rico, the Oversight Board, and the federal government.
“I am fully committed to bringing the resources necessary to restore electricity to the people of Puerto Rico as quickly as possible, and to re-activate the economy and bring normalcy to the Island,” said Zamot. “The goal is to fully align these recovery efforts with PREPA’s long term transformation plan, making the power system more modern, resilient and reliable.”
“The appointment of [Zamot] is an essential step in achieving the goals of reliable, competitively priced electricity and attracting the private capital we need to revitalize the economy of Puerto Rico,” said Oversight Board Executive Director Natalie Jaresko.
Jaresko said it is common practice in reorganization cases for a debtor in possession to name a chief restructuring officer to effectively manage the entity while it is in bankruptcy.
“As the representative of PREPA under Title III of PROMESA, the Board believes the successful exit of PREPA from Title III requires adapting the pre-hurricane transformation plans with ongoing federal reconstruction efforts,” said Jaresko.
“I look forward to leveraging my experience as a military officer and business executive in leading complex organizational transformations for the benefit of Puerto Rico,” said Zamot. “I have previously led organizations in emergency situations and acknowledge the challenge ahead of me.”
Zamot served 25 years in active duty with the U.S. Air Force, including management of energy and infrastructure projects. As a private sector executive, he provided engineering expertise to the Defense Department, and launched and managed a successful business.
Most recently, Zamot was approved by the governor to serve as the Revitalization Coordinator for the Oversight Board. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and MIT.
In recent days, Whitefish Energy’s hiring has been questioned, specifically because it was a two-person operation when it signed the whopping $300 million contract with PREPA. Its alleged ties to President Trump’s administration have also been brought to the limelight.
On Wednesday, the company issued a statement saying: “We look forward to meeting Zamot and briefing him on the great work we are doing on Puerto Rico and sharing with him our thoughts about what still needs to be done beyond what we’ve been tasked with to bring the electrical system back online.”
“We already have 300 workers on the island and continue to make great progress on our assignments, but others who will play a role need to get here faster and do more,” the company said in the statement.
Meanwhile, in Congress, Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) issued a statement of her own, saying “Puerto Rico’s recovery depends on a reliable electrical system. Yet, one month after María made landfall in Puerto Rico, 75 percent of the island remains without electrical power.
“PREPA has made clear it is not equipped for the enormous task of quickly restoring the island’s power. Initially, the utility decided to forego ‘mutual aid’ agreements with other power authorities that have previously proven effective in rapidly restoring power in other hurricane-impacted areas,” she said.
“The Authority’s dubious decision to contract with a small, inexperienced and obscure company further underscored the need for intervention. It is therefore completely appropriate for the Board to step in by making this appointment,” Velázquez said.
“As I have said previously, under PROMESA, the Oversight Board is not just authorized to take this action — it has a legal responsibility to do so. This appointment should be approved expeditiously.
“Going forward, the new CTO should present a clear plan as to how it will work with FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There must be full transparency throughout this process so the U.S. taxpayer has confidence federal resources are being wisely spent and, more importantly, that everything possible is being done to assist the Puerto Rican people and quickly restore power,” Velázquez said.