CNMI’s Quest For Suitable Alternative Energy Continues

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CNMI’s Quest For Suitable Alternative Energy Continues House official says solar, geothermal, LNG all under consideration

By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety Guam, Dec. 31, 2013) – In the Northern Marianas, the hunt for a suitable source of alternative energy continues.

Recognizing that high utility costs have been a significant burden for government, businesses and the community, lawmakers will continue looking for potential investments in alternative energy to help bring the cost of utilities down.

"I am fully supportive of alternative-energy options. We are looking at proposals from different investors," said Rep. Christopher D. Leon Guerrero, Covenant-Saipan and chairman of the House Committee of Judiciary and Government Operations.

He wants to see utility costs reduced by 50 percent.

"I want to see that happen," he said.

He also said, "Let us get rid of the expensive one and go for one that will benefit both commercial and residential customers."

A recent study commissioned by the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. (CUC) performed by DNV KEMA Energy & Sustainability showed that renewable power of up to about 25 percent of Saipan’s peak power demand, or about 8 megawatts, can be integrated without causing grid instability.

This would reduce the per-kilowatt hour cost of electricity by about seven-tenths of a penny, or $0.007 per kWh.

As to the push for the use of alternative, renewable energy, Rep. Edmund Villagomez said, "We really need to focus on what type of alternative energy."

He said they are trying to consider everything from solar to liquefied natural gas to geothermal.

He said there has been no firm commitment yet from any of the investors who made presentations before the lawmakers this year on their plans for the CNMI.

"A more solid plan needs to come out first," he said.

Just recently, a group of lawmakers was invited by Blue Ocean Energy Corp. to travel to Guangzhou, China for a tour of its facility.

The lawmakers are planning on preparing a public presentation regarding their trip to China.

For Villagomez, he would like to replicate what Hawaii is doing as far as considering alternative-energy options.

He said the Hawaiian islands focus on various options for the different islands with targets set on the percentage of alternative-energy use.

"If we could do something like that so we know what we will target," he said.

He said he doesn’t see a complete independence from fossil fuel use.

Even those that made presentations to the lawmakers, he said, though they use alternative energy, they still use diesel also.

But Villagomez, and the other lawmakers, he said, will continue to look for ways to bring utility costs down.

He told Variety that he had spoken with some members of the business community who complained of utilities being the biggest of their operational expenses.

"If we could get that fixed, businesses would keep their doors open longer," he said.

Asked for his opinion on whether privatization of CUC would be beneficial, Villagomez said, "Maybe in the long run. I’ve got to look into the specifics of the privatization issue."

Villagomez said if CUC were to be privatized and taken over by an investor, the latter would have to assume a lot of debt.

"I assume they are going to invest in renovating and enhancing the facilities and equipment which will cost millions," he said.

He also said investors may hire topnotch experts and engineers to ensure an efficient operation.

"This is not cheap," he said.

He fears this might raise the cost of utilities.

However, he is confident that the Commonwealth Public Utilities Commission will be on guard to prevent any unnecessary increases that will burden consumers and impact the economy, if privatization does occur.

In the meantime, the administration may soon be ceding authority over CUC back to the CUC board once members enough to comprise a quorum have been appointed and confirmed by the House and the Senate.

The utilities agency remains under a state of emergency.

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