(Adds quotes from Chairman Bishop, lamwaker criticism of PREPA)
WASHINGTON, Nov 7 (Reuters) - The federally appointed oversight board that manages Puerto Rico's finances asked Congress on Tuesday for support in its fight with the island's governor over who should take charge of limping efforts to restore electric power after Hurricane Maria.
The storm knocked out Puerto Rico's power grid more than six weeks ago and federal and territorial authorities have been slow to make progress on the massive project. As of Monday, 42 percent of the bankrupt island's electricity had been restored.
Power shortages affecting hospitals, schools and businesses have prompted as many as 100,000 Puerto Ricans to flee for the mainland - a level of migration that could further hobble the local economy, lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee were told during a hearing.
A month after the hurricane, the oversight board moved to appoint retired Air Force Colonel Noel Zamot as an emergency manager for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). But Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello has said the board overstepped its authority and is fighting the appointment in court.
Given the urgency of restoring electric power, Natalie Jaresko, the board's executive director, asked lawmakers to clarify that the board has the authority to appoint Zamot, review contracts and set a fiscal plan, suggesting that federal aid be made contingent on it.
"We would appreciate a legislative affirmation of those, and/or conditioning of appropriations on those powers as you see fit," Jaresko told lawmakers.
After the hearing, committee Chairman Rob Bishop told reporters that he would not yet sketch out the steps Congress might take.
He added, "I want to do that which I can do quickly and effectively so I can give them the clarification so they can go forward."
Jaresko said the price tag for rebuilding the storm-battered island - home to 3.4 million Americans - was as high as $100 billion.
Lawmakers had planned to grill Ricardo Ramos, PREPA's executive director, at the hearing. But on Monday night, the utility said he was too busy to attend.
Rossello was slated to testify to the committee next week, Bishop, a Republican, said.
The House committee has asked PREPA to explain the circumstances surrounding the awarding of a $300 million contract to Whitefish Energy Holdings, a small Montana company that had been hired to rebuild the island's power grid.
The contract has since been terminated.
Bishop said documents submitted to the committee by PREPA late on Friday "raise other questions."
Referring to the possibility of Ramos testifying at some point soon, Bishop said, "Someone needs to ask questions about how Whitefish came about."
While PREPA officials were not present, lawmakers nonetheless lashed out against the utility, with some calling for ending its monopoly on the island.
Calling it "a vehicle for political patronage for decades," Democratic Representative Darren Soto said: "It has exhibited gross incompetence by overseeing a declining grid, approved a no-bid insider Whitefish contract and it's been mired in debt. PREPA is failing the Puerto Rican people."
Soto, who represents a central Florida district with a large Puerto Rican population, called on Puerto Rican authorities to work with the oversight board "to break up PREPA's failing monopoly" and establish regional entities to provide electricity.
Jaresko weighed in, prompted by Soto, saying, "a state-owned monopoly does not work."
(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Tom Brown and Andrea Ricci)