Commission Asked To Investigate CNMI Utilities Spending

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Senator also wants to speed up renewable energy proposals

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, July 25, 2013) – Northern Marianas’ Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan) has asked the Commonwealth Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to look into the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.’s (CUC) expenditures to ensure that funds are not needlessly spent on "higher salaries, vehicles, the call center, and any other item" before CPUC acts on CUC’s petition to increase its rates.

Torres, at the same time, asked that the government speed up the release of a request for proposals (RFP) to develop renewable energy sources.

The Inos administration also would like to see an RFP out "as soon as possible," press secretary Angel Demapan said when asked for comment.

"There have been numerous unsolicited proposals brought to the administration’s attention, but the governor and lieutenant governor are stern in their position that any decision be made through the RFP process. Governor Inos will be meeting with CUC in the coming days to discuss this matter," Demapan told Saipan Tribune.

Torres, in a two-page letter to CPUC chair Joseph C. Guerrero, asked the commission to investigate CUC expenses, on the heels of CUC’s petition to increase its electric, water and wastewater rates.

"While I do understand CUC’s need to recover its costs to provide such services, I would like to know if CUC is cutting costs and streamlining its expenses before the rates are increased," Torres told Guerrero.

The Senate president asked the CPUC chairman four sets of questions, including the salaries of CUC’s top officials such as the executive director, the deputy director and the division director; who determines the salary of top officials; how many new trucks, other vehicles and equipment were bought in the last three years, how much each costs, and what funds were used to buy them; and how much CUC is spending on its call center.

CUC’s $1.50 online payment fee

In his letter, Torres said that although CUC customer service moved to a bigger office and set up an online payment system, there are still a lot of customers who pay their bills in person.

As a result, he said, the payment lines are still long due to the number of available cashiers at certain times.

At the same time, the Senate president slammed CUC’s $1.50 charge for online payments.

Torres said IT&E and Marianas Cable Vision provide online payment services "for free" while CUC charges $1.50, which is separate from the cost of the utilities.

"CUC is profiting from its customers who are already suffering with high utility bills," he said.

The Senate president said CUC’s proposed rate increase will adversely affect residential and commercial consumers upon its implementation.

"CUC is a not-for-profit government agency and it should not be allowed to make a profit or increase rates to pay for high salaries, luxury vehicles, and other items that are not required or needed by CUC. If CUC needs to generate or save for capital improvements, it should consider forgoing needed expenses like the call center, high salaries, vehicles and other expenses," he added.

He also urged CUC to reassess its current power generating plants and facilities, which are increasingly costly to operate and maintain due to the wear and tear inefficiencies.

Torres urged expediting the RFP to develop renewable energy mix power plants for the CNMI under a full privatization scheme to allow for an immediate decrease in power rates.

House Public Utilities, Transportation and Communications Committee chair Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) also prefiled a resolution urging Gov. Eloy S. Inos and Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofshneider to compel CUC to expedite the release of an RFP for the development of renewable energy sources in the CNMI.

The House may adopt the resolution during its next session tentatively set for Friday.

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