FITIAL JUSTIFIES OVERRIDE OF CNMI POWER RATES

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By Gemma Q. Cassas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Nov. 15) – Governor Benigno R. Fitial yesterday said the Legislature’s override of his veto of the measure lowering Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands residential power rates still stands as law but his team of legal experts determined they can promulgate emergency regulations.

"I think this whole issue is being misunderstood," he said. "The Legislature passed a bill that reduced (residential power) rates. But it says, as you know, that there should also be fluctuating rates in the event that the price of fuel goes up. As you know, the price of fuel went up. Now, it’s approaching US$100 per barrel," said the governor.

He vetoed House Bill 15-246 on September 14, which sets the rate at 17.6 cents the first 1,000 kilowatt-hours of energy residential customers use and 22 cents per kilowatt-hour for anything in excess of that.

But both houses of the Legislature overrode it just before the November 3 election.

Thus, H.B. 15-246 became Public Law 15-94 and took effect on October 4.

Fitial said P.L. 15-94 also states in part: "The electric charges and rates in this section shall supersede and replace the residential rates established by the amendments to part 24 of the Electric Service Regulations of the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. as set forth in 28 Com. Reg. 9 26156, et se. (Sept. 27, 2006), which became effective on October 27, 2006; provided that the electric fuel rates may fluctuate depending on the actual cost of fuel."

Changes in utility rates can only be made by the Commonwealth Public Utilities Commission.

Pending the creation of the commission, the Legislature enacted a law allowing the attorney general to act as the quasi-body of Commonwealth Utilities Corp.

On November 2, Fitial approved the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.’s emergency regulations allowing it to charge residents 25.8 cents per kilowatt-hour for the first 1,000 kilowatt-hours and 30.2 cents per kilowatt-hour for all electricity they consume over 1,000 kilowatt-hours.

"That law, which was overridden by the Legislature, allows for the fluctuating rates. We’re only complying with the law. We didn’t create the law. The cost of fuel was allowed by that law to be factored into the rates that we now have," said the governor.

"The emergency regulations were a function of that law that we promulgated," he added.

Marianas Variety

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