U.S. House Calls For Renewable Energy Plan For Insular Areas

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Bill, now with Senate, hopes to reduce reliance on fossil fuels

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Sept. 22, 2014) – The U.S. House has passed federal legislation calling on the U.S. Department of Interior to develop an action plan to address the renewable energy needs of insular areas and U.S. freely associate states.

Sponsored by U.S. Virgin Islands Congresswoman Donna Christensen and co-sponsored by other island delegates including Congressman Faleomavaega Eni, the measure [H.R. 83] which was passed last week by voice-vote, is now with the U.S. Senate for consideration.

If enacted into law, the bill requires the Interior Secretary to assemble a team of technical, policy, and financial experts to address the energy needs of the territories and the Freely Associated States through the development of action plans aimed at reducing reliance on imported fossil fuels and increasing use of indigenous clean energy resources.

According to a Congressional Budget Office report to the House, DOI currently spends $1.2 million annually to establish energy action plans for insular areas. Based on information from the agency, CBO expects that under H.R. 83, DOI would need to spend about $2 million more annually to hire additional staff to handle the increased technical support called for under the bill.

Thus, CBO estimates that implementing the bill would cost about $10 million over the 2014 - 2018 period, assuming appropriation of the necessary amounts, the report said.

Speaking on the House floor prior to the vote, Faleomavaega said this measure is "critical in order to provide a comprehensive approach in addressing the high cost of energy" in the territories and freely associated states.

"Given our remote location, we rely solely on imported fuel, which has an adverse effect on our local economies," he said.

As discussed at the 3rd International Conference of Small Island Developing States that was held in Apia, Samoa earlier this month, Faleomavaega said "we should also be concerned about the effects of climate change on our communities."

"It is crucial that we develop action plans aimed at reducing our reliance on imported fossil fuels," he said, adding that H.R. 83 "is an important first step in addressing our challenges."

Christensen speaking on the House floor said this bill will help the Virgin Islands and other insular areas become less reliant on expensive, foreign imported fuel and "address our long standing energy challenges which have become increasingly complicated by price shocks and instability in the oil markets over the past few years."

"The bill requires that the energy action plans identify and offer remedies to our immediate, near-term, long term, and environmental needs, along with recommendations on how to improve the performance of energy infrastructure, overall energy efficiency and a schedule for implementation of those recommendations," she said.

Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Congressman Gregorio Camacho Sablan, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said in a statement that this important measure will help local governments develop and implement plans to reduce reliance on the imported fossil fuels that make electricity so expensive in America’s insular areas.

The plans will propose technical, financial, and policy actions that island governments and local utilities can take to move the islands towards alternative sources of energy – especially renewables, he said.

"The plans will also show how to improve efficiency beginning with production, through distribution, and at the point of use, so that every kilowatt generated in the islands goes unwasted," he added.

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