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By Gemma Q. Cassas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Oct. 7) – Maria Mattox, a widow on Saipan, used to pay only about US$200 a month for her power consumption, but since April, her bill has risen to more than US$400 a month due to the 3.5 cents fuel surcharge.

Mattox, a full-time homemaker, is living with her four children, two in-laws and two grandchildren. She said the sudden rise in the cost of electricity has forced them to cut down their use of electric appliances, particularly the oven.

"I use to bake Chamorro and banana cakes and give them during (funeral rosaries) — but now no more," said Mattox in an interview.

Besides reducing oven use, Mattox said she has instructed her children and grandchildren to turn off lights whenever possible.

She said while it is true that the constant rise in fuel prices is a major contributing factor to their woes, the current and previous administrations should be partly blamed for the fuel surcharge.

"They should have seen this coming. They were ill prepared. They should have conducted research on certain things that would affect us. They should have known that fuel prices have a great impact on small islands like the Northern Marianas," she said

Garapan Elementary School teacher Paula Sablan said the surcharge has also affected their family’s budget "big time."

Sablan and her husband are working full time. But even with their combined income, they still find it difficult to cope with the rising prices.

"We are both working, but living on Saipan isn’t exactly inexpensive — it’s costly," she said.

The teacher, who is also a mother of two, said they have already adopted certain measures to cut down their power bills.

But like the rest of the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation customers, Sablan said the situation is even more frustrating because of the constant power outages.

"I’m not complaining — it is sad that we have to go through this (but) they turn off power when we’re unaware of it and it’s frustrating," she said.

Beth Deleon Guerrero, a single mother of a teenage boy, said reducing the use of the air-conditioner is the best solution to cut down on their power bills.

Deleon Guerrero and her son live in a government-housing unit.

Their apartment, however, has a centralized air-conditioner that consumes about 5.27 kilowatts of electricity per hour (kwh). At US14.5 cents per kwh, the air-conditioner alone could cost her US$240 a month

"We don’t use the air-con anymore. We just open the windows. I also don’t use the electric stove anymore," she said.

Deleon Guerrero works as a receptionist in a printing press.

She claims that her earnings for two weeks now pay for their utilities.

"My house is rent-free. But I’m obligated to pay for power. My salary goes to payments for utilities," she said.

The US3.5 cent fuel surcharge is good only until February 2006. The government may opt to further raise it by as much as US5.5 cents per kilowatt hour to cover Commonwealth Utilities Corporation’s shortfall on fuel expenses.

October 7, 2005

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