PREPA executive director Ramos resigns

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Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority executive director Ricardo Ramos resigned under fire over his management of disaster response and contract and hiring practices.

Ramos has been struggling to restore electric power to the island, which lost its service on Sept. 20 when Hurricane Maria hit the island. He submitted his resignation on Friday, PREPA said.

On Friday afternoon Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced that he was recommending engineer Justo González as the authority’s interim director. The PREPA board of directors makes the decision on who to appoint to the executive director position, but it usually takes the recommendation of the governor.

González has worked at PREPA since 1998.

In the last few weeks officials and commentators in Puerto Rico and stateside have raised concerns about the contract Ramos approved with Whitefish Energy to help PREPA restore Puerto Rico’s electrical grid.

On Friday, the El Vocero news website reported that Ramos got a friend appointed as an attorney for PREPA in September. According to the story Ramos had tried to get the friend appointed twice earlier but the authority’s board of directors had rejected the appointment. In late June Rosselló replaced most of the board’s members.

Ramos said his resignation was effective Friday.

“The resignation was worked on … in the best interest of the people of Puerto Rico,” Rosselló said, according to the Caribbean Business news web site.

“With this designation [of González] a process of evaluating the best talent available – both within and outside of Puerto Rico – will begin, to proceed with an appointment to the position of executive director of PREPA,” Rosselló said. “I trust that this process will be completed as quickly as possible, with the purpose of not affecting the work leading to the restoration of the electrical system throughout the island, in accordance with the guidelines we have set.”

On Monday Title III bankruptcy judge Laura Taylor Swain said the Puerto Rico Oversight Board did not have the authority to appoint a replacement for Ramos. The board had sought to replace him.

“We’ve seen no clear plan of leadership for PREPA from Rosselló,” said Tom Sanzillo, director of finance for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Ramos’s resignation along with Swain’s denial on Monday of the board’s appointment of Noel Zamot to replace Ramos as head of PREPA, shows “disarray” at PREPA, he said.

Two months after Hurricane Maria much of Puerto Rico still lacks electrical service. With PREPA, “there is very little reason for confidence,” Sanzillo said.

As of February the authority had $9 billion in outstanding debt. It has been in default on its bonds since the summer.

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