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AUCKLAND, New Zealand (June 29, 2001 – Agence France-Presse)---A remote and tiny Micronesian atoll was to go electric for the first time Friday after an unusual French aid project mounted solar energy panels on coconut palm trunks.

The 100,000 U.S. dollar project is based on Satawal Atoll, part of Yap State in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), a scattered island nation between New Guinea and Japan.

Satawal, home to around 500 people, is known for its heroic long-distance traditional navigators.

France's FSM ambassador, Jean-Pierre Vidon, who is resident in Fiji, handed over the project Friday, having reached the atoll aboard the French warship Vendemiaire, which is normally based in New Caledonia.

Vidon noted at the handover ceremony that the project had faced many technical difficulties.

The use of coconut trunks to support the solar panels is praiseworthy as it incorporates local resources shaped by those who would benefit from the project, he said.

France backed the project because promoting renewable energy is a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Vidon said.

The Satawal project roped in Pacifique Energie, a Noumea-based subsidiary of Total Energie, which supplied the equipment, while Transenergie, from Lyon, France provided technical assistance.

"This project is an example which can serve as future reference for the development of solar energy in the Pacific, with a stress on an active involvement of islanders," Vidon said.

The project provides 50 individual solar power systems, each supplying power sufficient for two fluorescent tubes and a radio set.

It also includes a community system of six fluorescent tubes and two refrigerators.

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail:  Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website: 

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