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By John Ravelo

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Dec. 29) – Have you noticed the dark streets lately?

Due to financial woes, the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation [CUC] has begun shutting down streetlights in many parts of Saipan.

This has led to increasing cases of vandalism in public and private establishments, prompting government agencies, churches and private homeowners to barrage the beleaguered utility firm about the streetlight problem.

The CUC said yesterday that streetlights that are not on primary roads such as Beach Road and Middle Road are being shut down to conserve fuel.

"Unfortunately, CUC's worsening financial situation does not allow us to provide additional services. In fact, CUC has been forced to shut down streetlights that are not on primary roads in order to conserve fuel," the CUC said in a public announcement.

The CUC added that it would not be installing new streetlights, besides turning off existing ones.

CUC's power generation for Saipan, Tinian and Rota costs approximately US$179,000 daily, according to acting CUC executive director Sohale Samari. On Saipan, Samari said Power Plant 1 and 4 consumes an average of 70,000 gallons and 14,000 gallons of fuel, respectively, at a cost of US$1.75 per gallon. The daily consumption results in a daily fuel cost of US$147,000.

Samari said Tinian's daily fuel consumption averages 12,000 gallons, while that on Rota reaches 4,000 gallons. At the rate of US$2 per gallon, the CUC's daily fuel consumption for the two islands' power plants costs US$32,000.

It remained unclear yesterday if CUC obtained the additional US$500,000 that the CNMI government has reportedly promised to give the utility firm as fuel cost subsidy. Samari referred inquiries about the matter to CUC board chair Frank Guerrero, who could not be reached as of press time. Samari said, however, that the CUC has been in communication with the Governor's Office.

Last week, Samari said there might be a "major development" supposedly Tuesday or Wednesday this week regarding the CNMI's power situation. The CUC announced no such development yesterday.

The CUC had to scramble for funds as Saipan's power plants were running out of fuel last week. The CUC resorted to power load shedding on Tuesday and Wednesday last week to cope with the emergency situation. This soon stopped when the Finance Department remitted a total of US$1 million in fuel cost subsidy to CUC.

Besides that amount, the CNMI government has earlier pledged to give the CUC another US$500,000 this week and US$1 million more next week. However, Samari had said that there has been no clear-cut assurance that the additional US$1 million would actually be given next week.

Samari added, though, that CUC's monthly collections have been hovering around US$6 million since the implementation of the fuel surcharge.

[PIR editor’s note: Last week, Mobil’s country manager for Guam and Micronesia, Kamal Singh, said that the CUC had already reached its credit limit to Mobil and that it must reduce its "large credit" balance before the oil firm delivers more fuel to the islands without a demand for cash payment (read the story).]

December 29, 2005

Saipan Tribune

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