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SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, August 11) – Many consumers on Saipan were stunned yesterday after receiving their electric bills from the Commonwealth Utilities Corp., with most consumers saying they were too high or have doubled up.

The bills reflected the new rates that the utility agency implemented on July 22.

The Saipan Tribune chanced upon a visibly upset William Kintz, an employee of the Department of Public Works, who was complaining about his high billing at Utilities Corp.’s Customer Service yesterday afternoon.

Kintz said he was shocked to see his bill in the amount of US$361.25 in 34 days.

He said he was only paying US$150 to US$160 per month before.

"I went there [Utilities Corp.] to get an explanation. It's very confusing, even when they explained to me their computation. You need to be a scientist or engineer to understand it," he said.

Kintz said that Utilities Corp.had told people that they removed the surcharge fee and implemented new rates.

"Well that's what they're doing, but adding the fuel surcharge fee," he said.

Kintz said he can't afford to pay the bill because he is among the 36 employees of DPW who had been furloughed.

He said Utilities Corp.asked him to just pay 35 percent of the billing and sign a promissory note.

"I just complained. I did not pay," he said.

To survive, the Public Works employee said that he may just perform bush-cutting jobs and sell tinapa (dried salted fish) on the streets.

Another consumer who is staying in a commercial apartment said she was surprised that, despite conserving power, she still got a 30-percent increase in her billing.

The consumer, who requested anonymity, said that from US$90 every month, her bill went up to US$117.

She noted that the bill covered the half the period when the emergency regulations had not been implemented yet and another half when the new rates were applied.

"It [billing] could be more once the new rates are applied for the whole month," she said.

A nonresident worker also expressed disappointment after receiving a 100 percent increase in his bill. The worker said that, from US$80 per month, his billing rose to US$165 in only 15 days, which is way beyond his expectation considering all the conservation he made since the new rates were implemented.

Saipan Tribune learned from Utilities Corp. that most of the complaining consumers asked how the electric fuel charges are being computed.

When asked for comment, Utilities Corp. spokesperson Pamela Mathis said that, if customers are complaining that their billing doubled, then that's accurate because that's what Utilities Corp. had advertised long in advance so consumers could conserve power.

Mathis said the Utilities Corp. Customer Service staff is willing to meet complaining customers for one-on-one discussion about the new rates.

"Conservation measures must be used by every member of the family and everywhere in the house," she said.

Mathis added that since Utilities Corp.'s inception, its rates were never changed and it never adopted the utility industry standard on billings.

Gov. Benigno Fitial signed the emergency regulations rescinding the fuel surcharge and increasing the power rates fees. The new rate schedule sets a flat monthly fee of US$5.60 for residential customers. It also provides households with electric rates that rise with increased usage.

Under the rate scale, residential customers will be charged 23.1 cents for the first 500 kilowatt hours; 28.1 cents for the next 500 KWH; 30.1 cents for the succeeding 1000 KWH; and 34.2 cents for each KWH consumed in excess of 2,000 KWH.

Commercial customers will be charged a flat monthly fee of US$7.67. They will also be assessed 30.1 cents per KWH that they consume.

A flat monthly fee of US$7.67 will also apply to government agencies. Their power rate-at US$30.6 cents per KWH-will be slightly higher than that for businesses.

Customers categorized as "non-conforming load" because of their erratic usage will be assessed a flat fee of US$56 monthly and 43.7 cents per kWh.

[PIR editor’s note: According to analysts, the CNMI government cannot afford to continue subsidizing CUC which gets up to $2.5 million every month. Also, there is no indication that the price of fuel will go down suggesting that CUC should step up efforts to recover what it actually spends to produce electricity.]

August 11, 2006

Saipan Tribune

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