Whitefish Energy and big media’s obsession with scandal

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Unlikely as it seems, Whitefish has become inextricably linked — and in a most hurtful way — to Puerto Rico, to scandal and to hurricanes.

That’s because the little start-up company called Whitefish Energy (yes, with its two employees) had the audacity to offer its services in restoring power to the island in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Moreover, Whitefish Energy secured a $300 million deal with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, and by all accounts quickly had hundreds of subcontractors on the ground in Puerto Rico working to overcome the devastating infrastructure crisis.

But because Whitefish Energy is based in, yep, Whitefish, Montana, and because it only has two employees, the national media decided to go full kamikaze on the little company and blame it for every downed power line in Puerto Rico (forget about those 100 mile per hour winds!). Plus, because Whitefish Energy is two words, the reporters and headline writers around the world opted to blame just simply “Whitefish” for everything that went wrong in Puerto Rico. It didn’t hurt that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, a go-to boogeyman for the mainstream media, also lives in Whitefish, or that his son had briefly worked for the company one summer.

Now, I’m no expert on energy, power lines, hurricanes or disaster recovery, but I do know something about news, and I have to say that the Whitefish Energy story has been blown so far out of proportion that it’s stretched to the point where it can only be called fake news.

The underlying supposition of all the reporting about Whitefish Energy is that the company did something wrong. And why? Because the two-man operation nailed down a $300 million contract to perform vital and necessary services under horrible conditions for the Puerto Rican people. If you believe in class warfare, like most left-wing journalists do, then Whitefish Energy is guilty of exploiting the poor people of Puerto Rico. How dare they seek to get paid for restoring power!

But from what I can tell, no one has claimed that the company pocketed the money and then didn’t deliver the services it had promised. Actually, CEO Andy Techmanski and his little team in Whitefish ratcheted up their storm response almost immediately after getting a signed contract. They put together a team of 300 subcontractors and started putting boots on the ground within days.

Remember, virtually 100 percent of the power was out on the island, and the ancient infrastructure was already seriously inadequate, so the task was by no means simple.

If the mainstream news industry were not playing favorites and constantly trying to invent the scandal of the week, the Whitefish Energy story could easily have been played up as a positive can-do role model of American entrepreneurship.

While the rest of us, and most importantly the rest of the power companies, were sitting around doing nothing, Techmanski was actively pursuing a deal with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, even before Hurricane Maria devastated the island on Sept. 20.

Remember, Hurricane Irma had crashed through the Caribbean weeks earlier, knocking out power to approximately 1 million people on the island. Techmanski thought he could help (and, yes, make a profit at the same time) and he reached out to the Puerto Rican power authority through LinkedIn. Thus, by the time Maria had hit, Techmanski already had a relationship with PREPA.

Since the few other companies that were interested in working with Puerto Rico were demanding huge up-front payments of $25 million, and Techmanski wasn’t, he got the contract. Imagine that! And then he started to fulfill the contract … and then, the national media caught the blood scent and tried to destroy him.

But think about it. Have you heard any evidence that anything improper ever took place? I haven’t. No evidence that Ryan Zinke had anything to do with the contract being issued, so rumors of corruption were fake news. No evidence that Whitefish Energy ever pretended to have more than two employees, so efforts to make the company look like some kind of scammer were presumably fake news as well. Has there been any evidence of Whitefish Energy NOT fulfilling the terms of its contract? None that I have seen.

What we know for sure is that some competitors of Whitefish Energy didn’t like the fact that they didn’t get to bid on the $300 million contract. Sorry, Charlie. Better luck next time.

I can’t vouch for everything that Whitefish Energy did in Puerto Rico, and I have no connection to the company or Andy Techmanski, but I do respect the initiative, hustle and zeal with which Techmanski got the job — and apparently got the job done, despite the baying hounds of the media nipping at his heels.

As a matter of fact, Techmanski announced last week that Whitefish Energy had just completed work on the main north-south power line in Puerto Rico, allowing PREPA to restore power to much of San Juan, one of the hardest hit areas. You probably won’t read about that in the national media because it doesn’t fit the scandal narrative they’ve been pushing, but whatever you read, make sure you analyze it carefully down to the tiniest details. Sometimes the big picture is just a big lie.

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