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Whitefish Energy workers in Puerto Rico. Photo: Ramon Espinosa / AP

Whitefish Energy, a tiny Montana company, has been granted a massive $300 million contract by Puerto Rico's main electric utility to help rebuild the island's electrical grid after Hurricane Maria's devastation, per The Washington Post.

Why this matters: The Post called the hiring of a small for-profit company like Whitefish "unusual" and said it's drawing scrutiny from Congress. Whitefish had only two full-time employees on the day Maria hit Puerto Rico but claimed it is prepared to meet the challenges of the contract by hiring short-term workers at a rapid pace.

Whitefish's largest prior federal contract gave the company $1.3 million to replace 4.8 miles of transmission line in Arizona. For comparison, Puerto Rico has 2,400 miles of critically important transmission lines — and tens of thousands of miles of distribution lines to consumers across the island.

What usually happens after large-scale disasters is utility companies activate "mutual aid" agreements which require other utility companies to assist in restoring services. That's how utilities in Florida and Texas got back online after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey. Puerto Rico's electric utility, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, raising further questions on why it would choose to issue such an expensive contract when other established procedures exist.

A spokesman for Whitefish told a Washington state paper that the company is uniquely experienced in working with rugged, mountainous areas like Puerto Rico where helicopters and 100-foot ladders will be used.

Worth noting: Whitefish is based in Whitefish, Montana, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's hometown. Zinke is at least somewhat acquainted with Whitefish's CEO, though Zinke's office told the Post that's due to Whitefish being a place where "everybody knows everybody." Both Whitefish and Zinke's office denied that the Zinke connection had anything to do with Whitefish landing the Puerto Rico deal.

Go deeper

The modern way to hire a big-city police chief

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

When it comes to picking a city's top cop, closed-door selection processes have been replaced by highly public exercises where everyone gets to vet the candidates — who must have better community-relations skills than ever.

Why it matters: In the post-George-Floyd era, with policing under utmost scrutiny, the choosing of a police chief has become something akin to an election, with the need to build consensus around a candidate. And the candidate pool has gotten smaller.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
38 mins ago - Economy & Business

Speculative crypto art market takes off

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Move over, GameStop. The newest speculative game in town is NFTs — digital files that can be owned and traded on a plethora of new online platforms.

Why it matters: Most NFTs include some kind of still or moving image, which makes them similar to many physical art objects. Some of them, including a gif of Nyan Cat flying through the sky with a pop-tart body and rainbow trail, can be worth more than your house.

New coronavirus cases fall by 20%

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

New coronavirus infections continued their sharp decline over the past week, and are now back down to pre-Thanksgiving levels.

The big picture: Given the U.S.’ experience over the past year, it can be hard to trust anything that looks like good news, without fearing that another shoe is about to drop. But the U.S. really is doing something right lately. Cases are way down, vaccinations are way up, and that’s going to save a lot of lives.

You’ve caught up. Now what?

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