$200 Million Renewable Energy Projects Proposed For CNMI

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Wind turbines would be installed on Tinian, solar plant on Saipan

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, May 7, 2013) – Saipan Development LLC (SDLLC) adviser Kenneth Mahmood and Green Global Solutions Saipan LLC presented yesterday afternoon a proposed development of some $200 million worth of wind and solar projects on Tinian and Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, drawing a mix of interest, concerns, and questions from senators.

This comes months after SDLLC signed with CNMI officials a $190.8-million diesel power deal that later became one of the bases for two impeachment resolutions against former governor Benigno R. Fitial. Fitial resigned days before his impeachment trial at the Senate.

Senators said yesterday that the new proposal includes 30-megawatt wind turbines on Tinian with plans of delivering to Saipan the alternative power produced through underwater cable, as well as a 10-MW solar energy plant on Saipan.

Another presentation will be held at 2pm at the Legislature this afternoon but this time around, senators also invited House of Representatives members.

"The total cost of the project is about $200 million," Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian) told Saipan Tribune. Cruz said he helped arrange the presentation.

Other senators interviewed by Saipan Tribune late yesterday afternoon, including Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), Senate Vice President Victor Hocog (R-Rota), Senate floor leader Ray Yumul (IR-Saipan), and Public Utilities, Transportation and Communications (PUTC) Committee chair Sen. Pete Reyes (IR-Saipan), confirmed major details about Green Global Solutions' proposal.

Reyes said the Senate "did not commit" to anything.

Hocog, for his part, said the presenters stated that "there's zero obligation from the CNMI government."

"But they ask that there's something in black-and-white indicating the CNMI government's support for this project," Hocog said, referring to a power purchase agreement (PPA).

Cruz, Torres, and other senators said that, from what they understand, Mahmood will be the one handling the financing for the proposed project.

"They want a 25- to 30-year arrangement with the government," Torres said.

Reyes, along with other senators, was concerned most about the proposed 27 cents per kilowatt-hour rate which-when operation, administrative, and other costs are added-could easily end up being equal to the over 30 cents per kwh that consumers currently pay the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation (CUC).

"I personally think 27 cents is too high. It won't reach end users at 27 cents because there are added costs. I am not convinced. At the end of the day, the only proposal I am going to support is one that can reduce the rate to end-users, but not if it's only 1 or 2 cents difference from what we are paying now," Reyes said.

Mahmood and Green Global Solutions' presentation to the Senate comes nine months after SDLLC signed a $190.8-million power purchase agreement with then governor Fitial and then attorney general Edward Buckingham for a diesel power plant on Saipan. A taxpayer lawsuit against the PPA's signing was filed and is still being pursued.

Fitial, whose whereabouts remain unknown since he resigned on Feb. 20 prior to an impeachment trial at the Senate, is a subject of a penal summons. The CNMI government, meanwhile, is seeking Buckingham's extradition.

Mahmood returned to Saipan in December, continuing to promote and pursue SDLLC's diesel power plant project.

Reyes said in his personal view, "it seems" Mahmood's main concern is to have the CUC power plant removed from its current location in Lower Base "to give way to a shipyard project."

"The shipyard project, if it materializes, will bring in a lot of opportunities for the people of the CNMI," he added.

Rep. Janet Maratita (Ind-Saipan), the main mover of the taxpayers' lawsuit against the SDLLC PPA, said yesterday she's "surprised" to learn about a presentation by Mahmood and other investors.

"We are still pursuing the SDLLC lawsuit. But because this is a different project, an alternative power project, I would like to be at the presentation and hear from them directly," Maratita said.

House PUTC chair Rep. Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan) said he hopes House members will attend today's presentation.

Just last month, Deleon Guerrero and four other House members introduced a joint resolution urging Gov. Eloy S. Inos to "concur and support" Attorney General Joey Patrick San Nicolas’ opinion that former governor Benigno R. Fitial "had no authority" to enter into a $190.8-million power purchase agreement with SDLLC.

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