Food For Thought 9-5-08
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.
You can see the relief on people’s faces the last few days, most of them were able to get a good uninterrupted night’s sleep because there weren’t any power outages in the middle of the night. Commonwealth Utilities Corporation managed to get another of their generators up and running, so they were now able to produce enough electricity to move away from the three hour, three times a day schedule they had supposedly been following for the previous week and a half or so. But before you get too excited and put too much hope in the Aggreko generators that are supposed to be up and running by September 13th, I think it’s important that you understand a few things.
Tony Muna, the Executive Director for CUC spoke to the Saipan Rotary Club this past Tuesday and gave us an update on the situation and answered questions. He explained that Power Plant 1 was down to only one functioning generator at the time. It is a generator that should be producing 16 megawatts, but was currently only producing slightly over 4 megawatts. He said they just brought another engine online that morning that should hopefully allow them to cut down on the outage schedule. So these two generators that were being operated by CUC should have been producing 32 megawatts, but were only producing 8 megawatts between them. That’s good old fashioned CUC efficiency for you. At that point PMIC, which operates power plant #4 was producing 15 megawatts of power, even though they are only contracted to provide 10. That meant we had 23 available megawatts to meet a demand of 41 megawatts.
Nothing was mentioned about power plant #2, which was in the news recently because of the contract with CISCO, even though not a single generator is operating there currently. At this point I think it is probably worth pointing out what that contract was all about, and why even after spending all that money on a contract, we still have no operating generators at that power plant. CISCO was only supposed to supply parts for the generators and offer expertise in repairing the generators, but CUC employees were actually supposed to do the work, install the parts and get the generators up and running. So after spending all that money, and getting the parts delivered, once again the brilliant minds in charge of CUC decided that instead of having their employees actually install the parts and repair the generators, they would keep them working on the generators at power plant #1. Now you may ask yourself why CUC entered into that contract in the first place, if they didn’t have available manpower to install the parts and get the generators up and running, or why they didn’t just contract to have CISCO install the parts themselves and be responsible for getting the generators operational again? I guess you could ask the board that oversees CUC why they allowed such a foolish decision to be made. Oh wait, Governor Fitial did away with that board didn’t he? So does that mean he is ultimately responsible for that huge screw up involving the CISCO contract and the fact that we still have no operating generators there? Even though he may not have personally made the decision himself, he is ultimately responsible for all decisions made by CUC since it falls directly under his office now, isn’t he? Thanks a lot Governor; we could have really used the power provided by those generators at power plant #2 recently. Maybe he didn’t really care that much since we found out recently that we’ve been paying his utility bills for him and for the Lt. Governor as well, and since the blackouts don’t seem to affect his area very much.
So why don’t the Governor and Lt. Governor have to pay for their utility bills at their houses like you and I do? Do they think that just because the utility bills would be paid for if they lived in the official residences that they should be paid for even though they’ve elected to stay in their own mansions instead? We aren’t forcing them to stay in their private residences; they are more than welcome to stay in the government provided residences with the utilities included there. But when you elect to stay in your own private residence because it is so much plusher and fancy than the official governor’s residence, you should pay your own utility bill like any other citizen. After all, it takes quite a bit more electricity to keep your private swimming pool nice and clean. And why did the Lt. Governor’s utility bill jump from 1700 kilowatts a month before the government started paying his bill for him to over 5,000 kilowatts a month when the he got his electricity for free? Did he start just turning on every single electric appliance and air conditioner in his house and let them just run all the time for the heck of it? What happened to the conservation they were telling the rest of us we had to practice? Or is it possible that some of his relatives that live in the same compound could have had their electricity run through his meter, so they could get free electricity too? I have no idea, but I do think it’s something worth looking into, for those with inquiring minds.
I’ve gotten sidetracked though; let’s get back to the state of CUC. So the Aggreko generators are scheduled to be online and producing 15 megawatts of power by September 12th. Again, this is a 6 month rental contract that will cost CUC $500,000 a month. They will be paying for that with the interest income from MPLT investments in 2009 - 2010. I think they are living in Never Never Land, and just don’t have a clue. One thing you need to understand right now is that when CUC says they repaired a generator and have it up and running again, it doesn’t mean they have overhauled it and that it’s now as good as new, it means they’ve replaced the broken part to get it running again, but they still haven’t fixed the problems that caused the failure in the first place, so it will just be a matter of time before it happens again. In fact this administration has done exactly the same thing the last administration did; it has totally neglected the maintenance schedules for the engines and generators. They still haven’t done a single overhaul, they are simply providing band aid fixes and repairs, so these engines will continue to constantly break down and fail because the core problems aren’t being addressed or fixed. That’s also why these generators are only producing a fraction of the power they are capable of producing and why they are so inefficient.
The Governor chastised Pete A. Tenorio for wanting to tell the federal authorities that we are in the middle of a humanitarian crisis as a result of our power situation. He said the situation is much worse after a typhoon and we’ve come through those in the past, and besides, he has a plan. First of all, the problems after a typhoon are distinctly different from the problems being currently experienced by CUC. After a typhoon, you have to deal with trees that have fallen on power lines, downed power lines and distribution problems. It’s just a matter of chasing down all the various distribution lines, and clearing them or replacing them, but once you’ve done that, you’re good to go. Our problems right now have nothing to do with distribution; they are the result of total failure of our power generation system. If that’s not a crisis, I don’t know what is. You didn’t exactly reinforce your credibility by making that statement Governor; you just proved how out of touch with the situation you really are.
Their plan is to put out Requests For Proposal for private companies to overhaul and rehabilitate the engines and generators. Have they forgotten that they can’t seem to actually produce an RFP that isn’t plagued by challenges and delays? Didn’t they just have to cancel the RFP for renewable energy? They plan on having all of this completed during the 6 months that Aggreko is providing the supplemental power. Have they forgotten how much lead time they need to order parts and have them manufactured? Where do they think they are going to come up with the money to have the engines overhauled? Do they have extra money now that they’ve stopped buying so much Rydlyme? Do they think the feds are just going to give it to them and trust them to do the right thing with it, without having a competent and experienced project manager overseeing everything? Tony Muna is an accountant, remember? Is he really qualified to oversee the overhauling of engines and generators? Does he really know what needs to be considered in the contracts? Can he do a better job of the contract that his predecessor did with the CISCO contract?
And in order for this plan to work, with reliable 24 hour power in the meantime, it means that the engines and generators CUC has working right now with their band aid repairs have to continue operating with no breakdowns. What do you think the odds of that happening are? If I was a gambler, I’d set some pretty long odds on that one. So now that you know the real situation and this administration’s plan, do you feel better about things? Are you confident in their abilities to actually pull this off? How do you feel about the Governor and Lt. Governor getting free power and not having to conserve anything, while you and I continue to have to turn off air conditioners even when we do have power just because we simply can’t afford to run them anymore? They’ve had nearly 3 years now, are you enjoying the Better Times? Do you feel they’ve made good decisions regarding the utility company, since it is directly under their control now? Have you appreciated the lower rates they promised before they took office and the consistent, reliable power? Looking back I realize we couldn’t really believe any of their promises or what they told us, and I’m not thinking we should put much stock in this new plan or the current batch of promises either, but then again, that’s just me!
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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.