The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the utility struggling to restore power to the island while seeking to restructure $9 billion of defaulted debt, said it was forming a Transformation Advisory Council of utility industry leaders.
The council will work to guide the board and PREPA management concerning its search for a new executive director and a chief modernization officer, the utility's governing board said in a statement Monday.
The announcement follows the resignation Friday of Ricardo Ramos, who was under fire over his management of disaster response and contract and hiring practices.
The board said it already has an active Search Committee, which has identified a candidate for the chief modernization officer position.
The authority has been trying to restore electrical power since Hurricane Maria hit the island on Sept. 20 in what Rhodium Group called the biggest electrical outage in U.S. history in terms of customer hours of missing service.
The board named David Owens as the Advisory Council’s chairman. Owens recently retired as executive vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, an organization that oversees private sector electrical utilities.
“Owens has tirelessly focused on improving the industry’s reliability, sustainability, and affordability,” said Philip Smith, a senior director at Fitch Ratings who monitors the electrical industry. He has worked to make the industry adopt changing technology and future grid types.
“I think he would be a terrific choice to lead the advisory council,” Smith added.
“David Owens is a well-respected and seasoned industry professional," said Sue Kelly, President and CEO of the American Public Power Association. "His experience and acumen are well known to those of us at the Association." The APPA is the professional organization for the public power industry.
“Along with being recognized as one of the foremost authorities on electric power industry restructuring issues, Owens played a pivotal role in the power industry’s response to Superstorm Sandy, serving as the embedded liaison to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and helping to facilitate cooperation between the federal government and utility industry,” the governing board said.
The board has been working on creating the Transformation Advisory Council for several weeks and, according to board president Ernesto Sgroi Hernández, will be announcing the members of the council within the next two weeks.
“PREPA will continue to work with the compelling intensity required to rebuild the electrical infrastructure of the island, in accordance with the guidelines and the work plan launched by the Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares,” Sgroi Hernández said.
The board also said it had unanimously ratified Justo González Torres as PREPA interim executive director. Gov. Rosselló recommended him on Friday.
As of February the authority had $9 billion in outstanding debt. It has been in default on its bonds since this summer.