Solar power seen to cut CHCC’s power bill by 20%

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Posted on Jul 28 2020

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With the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. owing the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. nearly $36 million in utility bills that keep growing by about $400,000 per month, the Torres administration fully supports the corporation’s solar power generation project that is seen to cut the hospital’s power bill by 20%.

Soon after the CHCC board met with Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Finance Secretary David Atalig last July 24 at the Office of the Governor on Capitol Hill, Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios later told reporters that he’s delighted that CHCC has a long-term solution.

“I’m very, very glad to see that that system is going to be up and running fairly soon that will supposedly save them about 20% in their power bill, which is great and makes making things a little easier for them,” said Palacios.

He was quick to add, though, that this projected savings will not hinder the commitment that the Executive Branch and central government have made to CHCC. “That doesn’t mean that the Executive Branch and the governor will not continue to closely engage with CHCC to make sure that it continues to operate in a manner regardless of the costs,” said Palacios.

Palacios said that the administration will continue to help CHCC be able to make payments to CUC so that CHCC can continue to provide services to people in need. “We’ll find the resources somewhere,” said Palacios. “It’s been a challenge, to say the least, but sometimes you have to have these discussions to refocus and reset the priorities in our community.”

In Palacios’ opinion, CHCC and CUC are the top two systems that need to be closely watched. When asked if both CHCC and CUC will see a bigger budget allocation, Palacios says that it will be open for discussion “but when you don’t have a lot of wiggle room in government…we need to see where we’re going to cut.”

With CUC demanding that CHCC pay it $5 million by August and with the central government promising to pay half of that amount, Torres asked if there was any amount that CHCC can contribute every month, to which Esther Muña, CHCC’s chief executive officer, replied that CHCC is always running a deficit.

She pointed out that CHCC is struggling to shoulder uncompensated care, which takes a huge bite out of its operating expenses. Together with Medicaid costs, the hospital is only getting “50 cents on the dollar, maybe even 60 cents,” she said.

Derek Sasamoto, CHCC chief financial officer, says that the corporation runs into a shortfall every year. Even if they do a lot to grow their resources, the shortfall still exists, he said. “We see our uncompensated care numbers going up, as well as a lot of obligations with other government agencies that are rising,” said Sasamoto. “We actually reported that in our budget hearing, so for us to redirect the cash that’s currently available, that we’re currently generating, we’ll have to figure out where to take that from.”

Sasamoto says that 90% of what the hospital spends goes straight into services, as well as the hospital’s operations.

The initial phase of CHCC’s solar project has already been completed, according to CHCC Hospital Emergency Preparedness director Warren Villagomez, but it is not yet providing power to the hospital. When everything is ready, the system will supply power to the hospital’s intensive care unit, emergency room, and the operating room.

Justine Nauta
Justine Nauta is Saipan Tribune's community and health reporter and has covered a wide range of news beats, including the Northern Marianas College and Commonwealth Health Care Corp. She's currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation and Human Services at NMC.

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