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Senate rejects gov’s TEO nominee in split vote 8-8

fili@samoanews.com

Territorial Energy Office director-nominee Timothy Jones Sr, failed to muster enough votes in the Senate for approval and was rejected yesterday in a vote of 8-8. Although the House approved Jones this week, his nomination is officially rejected by the Fono due to the Senate vote.
 
The governor now has the option of re-submitting Jones name, or submitting a new nominee in the next legislative session, which convenes on the second Monday of July this year.
 
Jones is the second director-nominee rejected by the Senate; the first was Pa’u Roy Ausage as director of the Department of Youth and Women’s Affairs. There is no word yet from the governor’s office on a new nominee or if he plans to resubmit Pa’u’s name in the next legislative session.
 
SENATE HEARING
 
Prior to the full membership vote, Jones appeared before the Senate Energy, Power and Water Committee for his confirmation hearing, where the native of Columbus, Ohio, says that the TEO has for 30 years focused mainly on conservation to save energy, which is a “good thing, not a bad thing.”
 
“But what it did not do was address the cost of electricity,” he said. “Today, ASPA has no choice but to continue to purchase diesel at these rates that we cannot control... in American Samoa.”
 
He then shared with senators that he sees the “sea… as an unlimited power source, tappable for all future generations and the ability of American Samoa to take control of its energy needs and its stability” for everyone.
 
“It is my vision to work and focus the Territorial Energy Office on renewable energy power to help ASPA reduce the cost of electricity. Not just focus on conservation — yes this is part of the equation — but to really attack the fundamental costs that ASPA must pass on to the customer,” he said as part of his opening remarks.
 
The first line of questions came from Sen. Mauga T. Asuega, who asked if the nominee has a police record, and the answer was “no”. Mauga then raised several questions including that of solar panels now installed around the Tafuna airport area, and the relationship between ASPA and TEO.
 
Jones responded that TEO’s “relationship today with ASPA is solid”, adding that past problems between ASPA and TEO “were not about the organizations, or the employees or staff — it was about two people, who headed up” the two entities and they “could not get along”.
 
With the change of administration, “those problems were resolved,” said Jones, referring to the new Lolo Administration, which appointed an interim ASPA board, who then appointed Utu Abe Malae as interim boss. 
 
And with the new Lolo Administration, came a new director-appointee for TEO.
 
“Today TEO and ASPA “are absolute working hand-in-hand, step-by-step for the betterment of all of American Samoa,” he said.
 
Regarding the solar panels, which were implemented during the last administration, Jones said, this is the “largest solar panel project that we are aware of in the entire South Pacific” and the cost was about $4.5 million.
 
This ASPA project, was funded with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds and the output has a maximum capacity of 1.8 megawatts a day.
 
Regarding the use of wind to generate energy, Jones said federal funds were provided to carry out a wind study in American Samoa with wind censors installed around the island and the study is coming to conclusion soon with results to be released later this year. (ASPA administers this project.)
 
As to the use of ocean as alternative energy, Jones said there is currently nothing in funding or an on-going project. “But this is my expertise, it is my vision for American Samoa to tap the sea for a 24-hour reliable energy source,” he said.
 
Another question came from Mauga dealing with TEO’s program for low income residents and the senator also wanted to know if TEO offers any similar programs for the territory’s senior citizens.
 
Jones confirmed that there is an “annual and ongoing program” which focuses on the trade-in of old appliance for new ones, that are energy efficient. He said there are criteria for residents to qualify, and the target is low income earners.
 
He did say that there is no program that targets senior citizens, but this is something that he will look into.
 
Responding to questions from Sen. Fa’agata Mano, the director-nominee said his health is “very good” and that it was an “amazing feeling” when Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga appointed him as TEO director.
 
Although his campaign as governor in 2012 was unsuccessful, “the governor offered me an opportunity to follow what I promised the people... a world of renewable energy and financial stability through energy,” he said and noted that ASPA spends $100 million a year in diesel energy that is 20% of the budget today.
 
“The governor has given me the ability to follow what I’m good at and what my dream is. It feels great,” he said.
 
Jones also dismissed any claims that he was against any candidate for governor. “I made several public statements on TV that there were five candidates for change and any one of them would make a good change,” he said.
 
Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono said he is surprised that Jones didn’t apply for this job in the past years because his resume indicates that he is more qualified than anyone else on island.
 
“I think this is a good job for you” while the job as governor “is not your job,” said Soliai with a slight laugh.
 
“You have to serve first — like the Samoan saying, Tautua muamua ona avea lea o oe ma matai. You have to serve your chief before you become a chief of the family,” said Soliai. “This means before you become the governor, you have to serve the people first.”
 
Soliai said he is also glad to hear that the nominee’s working relationship with Utu is solid and this is something that should have been done a long time ago. “Work together with ASPA,” he said and then urged Jones to find a TEO program that would qualify senior citizens.
 
See tomorrow’s editions for more questions during the confirmation hearing.



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