When nearly the entire power grid of Puerto Rico was knocked out by a pair of ferocious hurricanes last year, utility companies from across the United States sent crews and equipment to help.
It was a power emergency on a scale rarely seen before, and companies spent tens of millions of dollars to mobilize. The utility in Sacramento, Calif., sent 30 workers and a dozen trucks. Ameren, which serves over two million customers in Missouri and Illinois, sent 225 workers. New York dispatched workers on at least five deployments to repair power lines and assess damaged substations. Florida Power & Light sent more than 100 trucks, several tons of equipment and 800 employees, many of whom spent Thanksgiving and the winter holidays working 16-hour days.
Though their costs are expected to be reimbursed by the federal government, the companies were not earning a profit. So it was with astonishment that, over the summer, some of the utility companies that had sent aid crews opened letters from the towns where they had worked in Puerto Rico: bills demanding millions of dollars in license and construction taxes.
Florida Power & Light was given five days to pay the first $2 million, and 30 days for $333,000 more in taxes, fees, penalties and interest. Ameren and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District received bills for nearly $3 million.
“The honor and humanity of your city’s people stands in striking contrast to the inappropriate monetary demands,” the Florida utility’s chief executive, Eric Silagy, wrote in a letter to the mayor of Bayamón.
The Florida executive was not alone in his chagrin. The utilities “each fronted tens of millions of dollars for personnel, equipment, and materials to help restore power in Puerto Rico on a not-for-profit basis,” said Emily Fisher, vice president for law at the Edison Electric Institute, a utility trade group which helped coordinate the agreements under which power companies joined the emergency response. “And the thanks we got from some mayors came in the form of….
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