Food For Thought 6-20-08
Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.
How much is too much? At what point will you finally be at your breaking point and admit that our system has failed us miserably and just continues to perpetuate itself? Our utility company is sinking to new all time lows, even though they keep trying to tell us that we’re almost at the end of rolling blackouts. I think it’s clearer than ever that they really just don’t have a clue. A group of over 200 people met this past week because they are sick and tired of what is going on at Commonwealth Utilities Corporation. They are demanding action, demanding that the legislature take their jobs seriously and provide real oversight over the government owned utility. They are also demanding that we finally break down and actually hire a professional who has the skills, education and experience to actually properly and effectively run a utility company. These seem like pretty reasonable demands to me.
And yet our Governor continues to beg the federal government for money to fix our worn out and poorly maintained generators. The real question is, why would anyone in the federal government want to listen to anything he has to say? After all, isn’t it our own fault that our generators were not maintained and were left to just fall apart believing that a sweetheart privatization deal was just around the corner? Isn’t it our fault that we continue to put political appointees in charge of running and charting the course for this very technical corporation? Isn’t it our fault that in spite of gross negligence, mismanagement and corruption we still haven’t seen any of the people ultimately responsible for the mess put behind bars or held responsible?
Is the federal government supposed to just ignore the fact that our Governor has done nothing but fight them at every turn recently with regards to the minimum wage increases and the federalization of our immigration system, and now that it has all passed and been signed into law, he is threatening to sue the federal government and drag the whole mess into court? Are they just supposed to pretend that none of that has happened and throw more money at our messes, believing that we will actually use the money properly this time and not squander and waste it? I’m afraid our track record wouldn’t give them much reason to trust us or believe that we would actually do it right this time.
Has our government given the federal government any reason to believe that we can really properly manage our own affairs and that we’ll be responsible this time around? Do you recall the whole mess with Marianas Public Lands Authority? Do you remember how much money was squandered through frivolous travel by their board members and the exorbitant per diem fees they voted to give themselves? Do you remember how a certain lawyer that was hired by MPLA wound up cashing checks that were supposed to go to MPLA, but somehow wound up going to him personally? Have you ever seen charges brought against any of them? It’s been 2 ½ years, does this administration really expect us to believe they can’t build a case in that much time? And now one of our senators is actually recommending that the Governor appoint this same lawyer with the questionable background at MPLA to serve as a judge?
Our leaders have made us the punch line to a bad joke; they have made us a laughingstock because of their rampant greed, corruption, mismanagement and nepotism. We have come to just think of this as the way things are; sadly we don’t expect anything else from them because it’s all we’ve ever experienced. But now the chickens are finally coming home to roost, each and every one of us are paying for their incompetence through outrageous electricity costs and frequent power outages. Families are getting sick of it and are leaving the islands for good. Businesses can no longer survive because of the double whammy from CUC, exorbitant utility costs and unreliable power.
If you added up the total amount of destroyed equipment as a result of the rolling blackouts and brownouts, I’m sure the figure would be astronomical. I have heard people talk about the possibility of a class action lawsuit against the government and CUC for all the losses they have incurred as a result of the failure to provide constant, reliable power. Frankly, it’s probably long overdue. Something has got to give and wake our leaders up, they need to realize that they are responsible for the mess we are in, and they need to do something about it. We either need to get serious about privatizing the utility company, but doing it right this time, or we need to hire experienced professionals with a proven track record to run and manage our utility company who can get it back on track and stop wasting over 60% of the fuel they put into the engines.
I’ve heard Tony Muna tell us over and over that he is only basing the rates CUC is charging us on “cost recovery”, but the problem is the costs are far higher than they need to be because of mismanagement within the power company. We are currently burning 60% more fuel than we need to be because our engines and generators are inefficient and not working properly. When you figure out how much all that wasted fuel is costing us, you all the sudden realize we could probably buy new generators and completely pay for them in a fairly short amount of time if you applied the money used to pay for all that wasted fuel. But instead of doing that, we just continue the band-aid approach and try repairing and patching up the old engines and just dealing with their inefficiencies. Hiring an experienced Executive Director and then having him come up with a cost effective plan would get us away from this never ending destructive cycle, but we keep avoiding that. Instead the Governor appoints an accountant as Executive Director of the utility company, someone with absolutely no experience or expertise in power management or systems. Sure he can crunch the numbers, but does he have the background and experience to show us how to stop wasting so much money on inefficient engines? What is he doing about the 25% line losses we continue to experience? That means that 25% of the electricity being produced is not being run through any meters, it’s just disappearing. But it is being paid for; you and I are being forced to pay for these losses. Our utility company isn’t just recovering costs, they are in squandering mode, and they’re turning it into an art form.
What if the federal government came in right now and said they would be willing to give us money to buy new generators which would be efficient, and would lower the cost we’re currently paying for electricity, but the catch was that they would hire and place the people here to run the corporation. Do you have more confidence in our own politicians to actually fix the mess properly, or do you think the federal government might be a little more reliable in this regard? I don’t know of any offers from the federal government in this regard, I was just wondering whether our leaders would still get your vote of confidence, or whether you’ve had about enough of their lies and empty promises.
While CUC continues with their load shedding schedule and frequent breakdown occurrences that aren’t scheduled, there may be some times that our radio stations will be off the air in the evening hours as a result. Because of the rolling blackouts and brownouts, we have had several automatic transfer switches burn out at our generator location on Mt. Tapochou. The cost to replace it is about $3,000, but since we can’t count on CUC to not repeat the same problem that burned the last switch out last time, we can’t afford to just keep replacing it. That means that every time there is a power outage on Mt. Tapochou, one of us has to drive up there and manually start the generator and switch power over. Then when CUC restores power we have to drive back up again, turn the generator off and switch power back. Some days recently we have had to make the trip up and down as many as 6 times in one day. We will continue making the trips during the day, but we cannot continue driving up at night, not knowing how long the outage will last or when CUC will finally bring island power back.
We are sorry for any inconvenience this might cause, however I believe you can understand that we also have to limit the amount of time we spend driving up and down Mt. Tapochou because of CUC. Many businesses have had to cut back on their hours, some have had to close periodically, and others are now assessing whether they can even afford to continue doing business in the CNMI as a result of our power situation. This situation could have been avoided if the administration and management of CUC had brought in auxiliary generators to help make up for the lack of capacity while repairs were ongoing, but they didn’t. They didn’t care about the effect it would have on you, on businesses or on the quality of life in general. And now they are telling us they are just recovering costs when they charge us the highest electricity rates around, even though they waste 60% of their fuel, and they lose 25% of their electricity through line losses. They may be recovering their costs, but the problem is their costs are absurd because of the waste and mismanagement taking place. Are you willing to keep buying the line of crap they’re feeding you, or have you had enough? Honestly I don’t know what the fix to this problem is going to be, but I do know that those responsible for this mess need to be held accountable and never given the chance to do it to us again.
Food For Thought is now available online at www.fftsaipan.blogspot.com and if you want it by e-mail distribution please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.