GPA blames contractor for plant explosion

CABRAS: The Cabras power plant is shown in Piti in July 2016. The August 2015 fire and explosion decommissioned the Cabras 3 and 4 generating units at Cabras. Post file photo

The Guam Power Authority's top management and its governing board, the Consolidated Commission on Utilities, have failed ratepayers again.

Instead of being the responsible decision-makers they're expected to be, one of their recent actions was to financially reward the few at the top echelon of GPA's management at a time when ratepayers are having a tough time paying the cost of keeping on the lights and air conditioners in their homes and offices.

In late November, in a closed-door meeting – where the record of what was discussed can stay confidential for months – the CCU, whose new members had been elected by voters just two weeks prior, voted to give GPA General Manager John Benavente a bonus to the tune of $25,000 on top of his annual pay of $225,000.

Benavente, in turn, approved generous pay raises for the select few at the top of GPA management, also with the CCU's blessing.

• Assistant General Manager of Administration Beatrice Limtiaco's annual pay went from $128,282 to $144,772.

• Assistant General Manager of Operations Melinda Mafnas received a pay bump in March 2017 from $138,870 to $145,000, and another raise from $145,000 to $155,215 on Jan. 1, 2019.

• Assistant General Manager of Engineering and Technical Services John Cruz Jr.'s pay increased from $145,000 to $155,215.

• Chief Financial Officer John Kim's annual pay went from $135,000 to $152,157.

• Legal counsel D. Graham Botha Jr.'s pay went from $135,000 to $144,772.

CCU Chairman Joey Duenas said, "We pay our people what they're worth, and the proof is in their performance and delivery of service."

"We don't want to go back to a time when you get six-hour load shedding," he added, referring to GPA's decades-old past of lengthy power outages.

Mr. Duenas, the days of six-hour load shedding were over long before this current GPA management and CCU came on board.

If performance was to be the gauge for the bonus and raises, these are primarily the same management under whose watch the Cabras 3 and Cabras 4 power generating units caught fire and blew up in 2015. In fact, after the two power-generating units ceased operating, GPA lost 19 percent of its power generating capacity, and the hotels in Tumon Bay were asked to help avert load shedding by switching off the GPA grid during peak times of the day.

In the recent audited budgeted year – 2018 – ratepayers have had to dig deeper into their pockets because GPA had to pay more for the continuing purchase of fossil fuel oil. After years of planning, GPA continues to be mostly reliant on fuel oil. GPA spent a whopping $217 million for fuel in 2018, a cost directly passed on to ratepayers. That's $51 million more than what ratepayers had to pay compared with GPA's $166 million fuel cost in the 2017 budget year.

Talk about money transfer – out of the pockets of GPA customers and into the bank accounts of the fuel oil traders, no thanks to GPA.

GPA management and the CCU only blame the fuel cost on the fluctuations of prices in the international market. However, after having done this job for a while, could GPA management under the guidance of CCU have done a better job of making advance orders when prices were lower?

That would require a more forward-thinking GPA and CCU that look after the ratepayers first and foremost.

The Public Utilities Commission, which is the gatekeeper for utility rates, didn't have a say on GPA's recent bonus and raises.

While PUC does on occasion review GPA's budget, Guam lawmakers decided years ago to establish a threshold that PUC only reviews GPA obligations that exceed $1.5 million.

The Legislature has granted broad authority to GPA and GWA to raise the salaries of "certified technical and professional employees," according to PUC administrative law judge Frederick Horecky.

By keeping the bonus and raises to a select few, the PUC oversight didn't kick in.

Senators, if you're listening, maybe it's time to change the law again.

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