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Pagan, Saipan both viable sites for energy plants

By Raquel C. Bagnol SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Aug. 5, 2011) –-The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is unique in Micronesia in having abundant geothermal energy, and Saipan has geothermal potential that can be tapped to produce alternative power and eventually reduce the utility costs on island.

Thomas J. Camacho of the CNMI Energy Task Force, in his presentation during this week’s Saipan Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Fiesta Resort & Spa, said nine islands north of Saipan host active volcanoes, which means the heat is there and there is potential to develop geothermal power.

Camacho said studies conducted on Pagan indicate a high probability of high temperature geothermal resources with an estimated generating capacity of 50 to 125 megawatts.

This means that geothermal energy could support the development and resettlement of Pagan soon, and that the geothermal energy of the volcanoes could be transported to Saipan and Guam via submarine electrical cable.

A place must have hot rocks and hydrothermal circulation — requirements which have been found based on assessments done on Pagan, he said.

Camacho said a geothermal reservoir exists on south Pagan. Saipan’s proximity to these islands with active volcanoes indicates geothermal potential, he added.

"As a hydrogen economy develops, the CNMI could be an exporter of energy," Camacho said.

Research conducted on Saipan also showed the probability of geothermal resources by drilling about 2,000 feet holes or deeper in Gualo Rai, he said.

If geothermal energy is tapped, Camacho said Saipan will no longer depend on fossil fuels to generate electricity.

This could translate to reducing the utility rates from the current 43 cents per kilowatt hour to less than 10 cents per kilowatt hour.

Camacho said a request for proposals will be prepared by the government soon to drill geothermal temperature gradient holes to verify the presence of heat in Gualo Rai and to determine if the geothermal energy is enough to install a power plant.

The $1.26 million grant from the Department of the Interior will fund the drilling project, he added.

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