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Hard pressed residents turn off appliances

By Ferdie de la Torre

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, May 9, 2008) – Many residential customers have expressed shock and are upset over the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.'s recent decision to double the power rates.

"It's very depressing!" court marshal John K. Atalig told Saipan Tribune yesterday.

Upon learning of the increase, Atalig said he told his wife to disconnect their one air-conditioner and take out the bulbs in some rooms.

The family used to have four electric fans and one air-conditioner. Because of the skyrocketing new rate, Atalig said they are now using just two electric fans and no air-conditioner.

"So now it's just like we're working for CUC. It's the worst time," said Atalig, a father of two.

At the previous rate of 17.6 cents per kilowatt-hour, he was already paying an average of $180 to $190 a month.

Before, they would go to the beach or some other places almost every weekend, but now they hardly go anywhere in order to cut on expenses.

"The lifestyle now is very hard," he complained.

CUC had explained that the new rates are necessary to reflect the true cost of producing power. The utility agency blames the current high cost of oil as the culprit behind the move to adjust the rates.

For deputy marshal Jess Santos, however, the sudden increase is just "ridiculous."

Santos who has five children and paid $300 to $400 a month at the previous rate, pointed out that CUC announced the revision of the rates last Wednesday in the newspapers, but the effective date was last Saturday.

"They should announce it a week before so we're aware of it," he said.

Santos said he removed his freezer and is now using gas stove. The family uses the two air-conditioners only at night.

"Every night I monitor all the lights to make sure they are off. We are now using a lamp," Santos said. "It's very frustrating."

Computer operator Christine Camacho has three children, all under five years old. She used to pay $349 a month for power because she has two air-conditioners.

"When I saw the news on TV about the new power rates, I said, 'Holy cow, how are we going to do it now,'" said Camacho, adding that she had already availed of two extensions just to pay her last billing.

She said she has been using two paychecks to cover her electric bill.

"There is no consideration to people who are earning the minimum wage," Camacho said.

She said she is not using a rice cooker anymore and uses a gas stove instead.

A father of two children who requested anonymity said the increase is just "horrible." He asked whether the sudden increase is being implemented because people will be getting the stimulus checks.

"This is a scam to get peoples' money!" the resident said. "It's like we're working to pay the power."

He said that at the previous rate, their billings reached $180 to $190 a month despite all the energy conservation that they initiated.

Under the new rates, their billings would increase to over $300 to $400.

"And that's only for power. How about our water, our gas, and our food? This is really ridiculous!" the resident added.

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