Marianas Utilities Seeking Renewable Energy Proposals

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CUC wants research into feasibility of geothermal energy

By Junhan B. Todiño

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 3, 2014) – To implement a renewable energy program, the Northern Marianas Commonwealth Utilities Corp. (CUC) will announce two requests for proposals (RFP) for geothermal exploration and integrated-resource planning.

CUC Executive Director Alan W. Fletcher said the two RFPs will focus on developing new energy sources.

Funding for the projects came from the U.S. Department of the Interior-Office of Insular Affairs, and the scope of work and project logistics have been closely coordinated with OIA and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the authors of the CNMI’s Energy Action Plan, Fletcher said, adding that NREL will provide CUC with technical assistance, including contractor selection.

Fletcher said the recently released Renewable Energy Integration Study has begun to answer important questions concerning how much renewable energy (solar, wind) can be reliably integrated into the Saipan electrical grid.

The study indicated the limits of integrating renewables and what improvements are needed to receive higher levels of renewable energy into our electrical system, he added.

The study 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.

Fletcher said the next step in the process is to look toward new energy sources and develop a plan that has the support of stakeholders.

For the geothermal project, he said available information suggests that the geothermal gradient beneath Saipan may be sufficiently steep to provide geothermal energy to generate electricity.

Still, CUC is soliciting proposals from qualified firms to collect and evaluate scientific data to better determine the potential for the development of geothermal energy on Saipan, Fletcher added.

He said the technical complexity of the project and the need to collect and evaluate extensive data will require the successful proposer to provide the expertise from various professional disciplines, conduct exploratory drilling, and provide equipment and materials necessary to complete the work.

As for the integrated-resource plan and energy-supply analysis, Fletcher said this will help to create a "roadmap" for developing new energy supplies in the CNMI.

It will "generally review options for generation type and mix, system integrity and losses, conservation options, generation ownership, operating and financing options, including economic analysis to determine short, medium, and long-term effects of new electric core load generation alternatives."

Fletcher said the plan and analysis will also develop strategies to reduce local fossil fuel dependency while providing reliable generation and distribution at the least cost possible for consumers.

"Developing new power generation sources are a major undertaking and can take many years to implement," he added. "Due to the immense cost of new energy sources and long-term rate implications to consumers, exceptional care must be taken in identifying new energy sources. Equally important, is to stop the ‘crisis management’ of energy supplies by having one predictable strategy to pursue."

According to Fletcher, the first task of the integrated-resource plan and energy-supply analysis is to set up an independent third-party technical review, selection, and advisory process for soliciting a new energy source.

The contractor will supply independent evaluator services that will administer the technical and financial review of energy-supply proposals.

"As many are aware," Fletcher said, "the CNMI is approached numerous times each year by sales teams claiming to have developed the ultimate energy solution for the CNMI. While many of these solutions appear feasible, the utility remains committed to ensuring that the people of the CNMI do not invest in a system that fails to deliver reliable power or ends up costing more than promised."

Fletcher said using independent third-party technical and economic expertise to advise the community in selecting a new energy source is thought to be the most efficient way to ensure a fair, open, and competitive procurement as well as gain acceptance by consumers, business community and government stakeholders.

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