Marshall Islands Alternative Energy Projects Hinges On Donor Aid

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Waste conversion, thermal and biofuel energy sources proposed

By Giff Johnson

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 15, 2012) – The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is working with donors to fund several large alternative energy developments that would significantly change the country’s current dependence on fossil fuels.

Funding opportunities are finally coming together for the Marshall Islands, said the country’s top climate change official.

Projects that are in advanced stage of consideration by donor agencies and governments include:

"For the first time, we’re seeing the ducks line up in a row (to support Marshall Islands developments in these areas)," said Steve Why, the Marshall Islands Senior Climate Change Advisor. Funding opportunities through Japan, Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and the Small Island Developing States group known as SIDS-DOCK are coming together mainly because "the Marshall Islands is raising its ambitions by going after these developments."

Mr. Why attended a SIDS-DOCK meeting in the Caribbean last month at which several funding requests for alternative energy and climate change-linked projects were submitted. "The Marshall Islands is leading the pack at SIDS," he said. A primary reason for this is the energy plan developed by R&D Secretary Tommy Kijiner, Jr. and his ministry’s Energy Division, which gives donors a point of entry for partnering with RMI, Why said.

But, said Why, the RMI itself "can only go so far" in transforming its current energy dependence and addressing climate change threats. "We need technology that can transform the whole energy scene," he said. This is where plans like the proposed OTEC plant for Kwajalein, a waste-to-energy plant for Majuro, and power grid-connected solar in the urban centers are essential developments, he said.

"The Marshall Islands needs to make the transition from diesel-powered electricity to renewables," he said, pointing out that developments like the Japan and United States-funded solar panel arrays on Majuro Hospital and at the College of the Marshall Islands, which are tied into the power utility company’s grid, are the way to go.

"This is why OTEC is key," he said. "It is about ‘business as unusual’ to get out of the situation we’re in."

In addition to government donors and international finance agencies, the Marshall Islands is talking with the U.S.-based Clinton Foundation about supporting a sustainable development package for this western Pacific nation.

"Seventy percent of our national energy expenditure is on transportation, in common with most island countries," said Why. "The Clinton Foundation agreed that vulnerability to energy shocks — especially in transportation — was the greatest economic hazard for Marshall Islands, Micronesia and other small island developing states. Increasing fuel efficiency and gradually substituting renewable biofuels and energies in transportation would reduce the Marshall Islands socio-economic vulnerability to external oil price rises, and also move us toward energy independence."

It also opens the door to expanding production of copra, the dried coconut meat that is milled into coconut oil for use as biofuel, and other spinoff sustainable developments, Why said.

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