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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Aug. 23) – Saipan’s rolling blackouts, now in their 30th day, worsened yesterday as several villages were left without electricity for more than four hours after another power plant engine broke down.

Irate business owners and residents called on the Babauta administration, which is in control of the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation, to step up its efforts to fix the island’s power problems in light of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’deepening economic slump.

The powerless areas yesterday included parts of Garapan, Middle Road, China Town, Puerto Rico and As Matuis. Their power supply was cut off at 8 a.m. only to be restored after 12:30 pm.

At CUC’s Power Plant 1, an employee said engine No. 6 broke down.

Asked if a similar four-hour power outage will occur today, the CUC employee replied: "Hopefully not."

Engine 6 experienced overheating on Aug. 18 due to "exhaustion."

The remaining active engines 1, 2, 5 and 7 at the main source of electricity on Saipan have been used to the maximum due to a shortage of power.

Engine 3, 4 and 8 are still down due to mechanical problems.

CUC’s trouble desk said it was an "emergency situation."

Hong Tai, a film developer at Rainbow Color Photo, said their business has slowed down significantly due to the constant power outages.

Like other small and medium-scale enterprises on Saipan, his company has no power generator.

Hong said they are losing customers and potential income due to the outages.

He said several rolls of film were destroyed when power was abruptly cut off. Moreover, their film machines have been damaged.

"It’s not good. We’re paying CUC US$700 a month for power but we’re not getting it. Power is always off," he said.

A mom and pop store owner, who declined to be identified, said their perishable items like fresh produce and meat are often damaged by the outages.

"It’s no good," she said.

A resident of Garapan said they are not getting what they are paying CUC for.

"We’re not getting our money’s worth. They are charging us the fuel surcharge and yet we’re still having power outages," she said.

A Chalan Kanoa resident, for his part, said: "They’re really making it happen," referring to the governor’s campaign slogan.

The rolling blackouts on Saipan started on July 25.

The governor’s Press Secretary Peter Callaghan said the administration has already released US$1.3 million to fix the troubled engines so that the island’s power supply can be restored to normal.

Engine No. 8, which can produce as much as 13.5 megawatts, is expected to be back online by September 7.

However, many are skeptical that the outages will be over since the actively used power engines are now showing signs of trouble.

August 24, 2005

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