Higgins takes on tough task in Puerto Rico
Walter Higgins, the former chief executive officer of Ascendant Group Ltd, has taken on one of the most challenging jobs in the power utility world.
The utilities veteran was this week named as CEO of Prepa, the Puerto Rico electricity firm — six months to the day after Hurricane Maria devastated the Caribbean island leaving some without power to this day.
Mr Higgins, 72, served as CEO of Ascendant, parent company of Belco, from 2012 to 2016 and has had more than 40 years' experience in energy industry management roles.
He will now be tasked with overseeing restoration of power to the remaining 7 per cent of customers — or about 100,000 people — who are still in the dark, as well as continuing repairs to the distribution system after the devastation of last September's category four storm.
In addition, he will be dealing with a tough corporate situation, with Prepa having filed for bankruptcy in July last year and going through the process of being sold off to the private sector.
Prepa is also deeply unpopular in the US territory of Puerto Rico, after all 3.4 million of its customers were cut off after Maria, and nearly two-thirds of homes and businesses were still without power as recently as January.
“The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority has become a heavy burden on our people, who are now hostage to its poor service and high cost,” Governor Ricardo Rossello said two months ago when he announced the utility would be sold off.
“What we know today as the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority does not work and cannot continue to operate like this.”
Mr Higgins, a retired US Navy captain and former nuclear submarine officer, is not one to shy away from a challenge.
A Forbes report on one of his previous roles states: “Walter M. Higgins III thought he had left Sierra Pacific Resources in great shape when he took off in early 1998 to run Atlanta Gas Light. But two years later its Las Vegas utility, Nevada Power, called him back out of desperation. It was then the height of the western power crisis.
“Anxious casino executives were pleading with Higgins to help fend off the rolling blackouts that were hitting California: a dark half-hour on the Strip could mean tens of millions of gaming dollars lost, not to mention a security nightmare. To keep current flowing, Nevada Power had to buy juice from companies like Enron.”
Mr Higgins has replaced Justo Gonzalez, former interim director for Prepa.