A tiny Montana utility company that received a $300 million contract to help restore power to Puerto Rico after its electrical grid was devastated by Hurricane Maria is financed by major Trump donors and run by a CEO friendly with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a series of recent reports has revealed.
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s granting of the huge contract to Whitefish Energy Holdings, a two-year-old company that reportedly had two full-time employees when the hurricane first hit, was first reported by the Weather Channel last week.
The Washington Post and the Daily Beast on Tuesday offered more details on the company’s backers. The Post noted that the firm is based in Zinke’s hometown and that its CEO, Andy Techmanski, is friendly with the Interior secretary, while the Daily Beast reported that Whitefish’s general partner maxed out donations to the Trump primary and general election campaigns, as well as a Trump super PAC, in 2016.
That newly surfaced information has raised eyebrows about just why Whitefish was awarded a contract to restore electricity to hundreds of thousands of Puerto Rico residents. The firm insists that everything is above board, with both Zinke’s office and Techmanski told the Post that the Interior secretary played no role in securing the contract.
But as multiple publications have noted, the type of work Whitefish will be doing is usually handled through “mutual aid” agreements with other utilities, rather than by for-profit companies, especially those of Whitefish’s exceptionally small size.
“The fact that there are so many utilities with experience in this and a huge track record of helping each other out, it is at least odd why [the utility] would go to Whitefish,” Susan F. Tierney, a former senior official at the Energy Department told the Post. “I’m scratching my head wondering how it all adds up.”
In addition to Techmanski’s relationship with Zinke, Joe Colonnetta, partner at Whitefish and founder of HBC Investments, the private-equity firm that finances the energy company, is a significant power player in Republican politics, according to the Beast.
Colonetta donated a total of $74,000 towards Trump’s presidential victory and $30,700 to the Republican National Committee, the Beast reported. His wife, Kimberly, separately gave $33,400 to the RNC shortly after Trump’s win, and was photographed with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson during inauguration week, per the report.