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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Greenlights $594,680 For Two Energy Projects In The Territory

WHITEFISH, Mont. — U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke informed American Samoa Gov. Lolo Moliga, Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo, and CNMI Gov. Ralph DLG Torres that he has approved a total of $3,489,427 in energy grants for the three territories. Zinke and the governors were attending the Western Governors Association meeting in Montana.

Zinke also announced energy grants of $594,680 for the territory that will benefit the Schneider Regional Hospital in St. Thomas and the Virgin Islands Energy Office.

There was no comment from non-voting Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett, who is apparently unaware of the federal funding for the territory.

In addition, American Samoa will receive $1,163,228, Guam $1,072,827 and the Northern Mariana Islands $658,692 for a variety of projects across the territories that will create immediate energy efficiencies, reduce high costs of fossil-fuel dependency, and explore other alternatives towards energy self-sufficiency.

“We recognize that the cost of electricity in the U.S. territories is three times higher, on average, than the U.S. national average,” said Zinke. “The energy needs of the territories are unique and I am pleased to help bring them into focus as President Trump highlights energy strategies across America during Energy Week.”

Thirty-four applications, totaling more than $18 million, were submitted for consideration to the Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs. The Empowering Island Communities grant funding as provided annually by the U.S. Congress is about $3 million.

Because the USVI is not a member of the Western Governors Association, Gov. Kenneth Mapp did not attend the meeting last week. However, Zinke did travel to the USVI for its centennial commemoration in March where he met with the governor and is scheduled to meet him again sometime in July.

The $658,692 awarded to the CNMI will fund two projects: installing solar panels at the Northern Marianas College and a feasibility study on extracting methane from the Marpi landfill and the Gov. Eloy S. Inos Peace Park, formerly known as the Puerto Rico Dump.

NMC will get $489,807 to install roof-mounted photovoltaic systems (139-kilowatt-size) on three campus buildings, reducing energy costs and dependence on fossil fuels. The photovoltaic systems will be installed on three buildings that have been demonstrated to take up 30 percent of the college’s energy consumption. NMC expects to realize an annual cost savings of $37,764 at an estimated 70-percent reduction in energy costs for the three buildings. This proposal is identified and supported in the CNMI strategic energy plan.

The $168,885 that will go to the CNMI government will be used to acquire professional expertise and create a feasibility study on the potential for extraction of methane gas from Saipan landfills. The study will be used to quantify the approximate amount of gas produced and the amount to be extracted over time, and provide a database for future reference, providing CNMI leaders with viable information and a cost-benefit analysis to determine the advantage of potentially using methane biogas fuel to reduce reliance on imported fuel.

As for the rest of the grants, American Samoa will get $1,163,228 for three projects, Guam will get $1.07 million for three projects, and the U.S. Virgin Islands will get $594,680 for two two projects.

Meanwhile, President Trump has expressed his intent to nominate Interior veteran Douglas William Domenech as assistant secretary of the Interior for Insular Areas.

The Office of Assistant Secretary Insular Areas coordinates federal policy for the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The office is also responsible for administering and overseeing U.S. federal assistance to the freely associated states.

Domenech, whose family is from Puerto Rico, holds a bachelor’s degree in Forestry and Wildlife Management from Virginia Tech University and currently serves as senior adviser to Zinke.

Previously, he served as the Secretary of Natural Resources for the Commonwealth of Virginia, overseeing six state environmental, recreation, and historic resource agencies. During the George W. Bush Administration,

Domenech served as White House liaison and deputy chief of staff to former Interior secretaries Gale Norton and Dirk Kempthorne. In addition, he served as the acting deputy assistant secretary for Insular Areas. Domenech currently serves as Zinke’s appointee to the Advisory Council of the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico.

Domenech’s nomination has been endorsed by all four governors of the U.S. territories; Mapp, Moliga, Calvo, and Torres.

In May of 2016, U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas Esther Kia’aina approved $3.1 million in grant funding for energy improvements to help reduce dependence on imported fuel oil in the U.S. territories of American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  The grants are provided through the Empowering Insular Communities Program from the Office of Insular Affairs (OIA).

“We are very excited that the Manu’a Islands in American Samoa will soon be 100% powered by renewable energy,” said Assistant Secretary Kia’aina. “We also recognize that the territories will need to continue to rely on some combination of fossil fuels and renewable energy sources.  These grants are creating efficiencies that will reduce the cost of energy for the territories.”

Empowering Insular Communities grants to be awarded this week are as follow:

American Samoa Power Authority (ASPA) – $368,468 for Manu’a Islands Demand Side Management Program and $927,500 for Supplemental Battery Storage – A major strategy of the American Samoa Energy Action Plan is for all three Manu’a Islands to obtain 100% of their electrical power from renewable sources.  Under current projects, Ofu and Olosega will reach 85% and Ta’u will reach 90% by October of this year.  After careful design and feasibility considerations, leading micro-grid experts have proposed two final projects to help Manu’a attain energy sovereignty:  1) Demand-side efficiency measures and 2) 1.5 MWh of additional battery storage on Ta’u.  Reducing the overall demand for electricity is the most cost effective way of reaching the goal of 100%.  All sodium vapor streetlights will be converted to LED lights, reducing energy consumption by half.  LED lighting will also replace less-efficient lighting sources in all commercial structures and schools to include additional energy retro-fits.  In all, these energy conservation measures are estimated to reduce demand for electricity by 15% in all three islands.

Through ongoing construction, ASPA will install 1.4 MW of solar panels and 4.2 MWh of Tesla batteries on Ta’u.  The project will offset approximately 90% of diesel consumption in Ta’u.  The additional battery storage, coupled with two 100-kW wind turbines (which will be funded locally) will bring the total renewable energy capacity to 100% and bring Manu’a to its self-sufficient energy goal.

Commonwealth Utilities Corporation (CUC) – $649,450 for Pre-Pay Meters Project in Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands – Funds will be used to purchase and install 1,550 pre-pay meters in support of the CNMI Strategic Energy Plan which identifies that energy consumption typically drops 15-20% shortly after a pre-paid meter is installed.  Next generation pre-pay meters will be installed in residential homes allowing customers to recharge by internet or telephone. Through this project a total of 21% of residential accounts will have been converted to pre-pay and will result in an estimated combined savings to customers of $12,000 per month.  The anticipated savings to the 7% of government agencies to be converted to pre-pay metering will be $61,566 per month.

Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Division of Agriculture – $330,128 for Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Power System for Kagman Agricultural Water Well Stations – Funds will be used to install five PV systems with battery storage at separate Kagman Water Well Stations replacing current grid hook-ups.  The water wells supply water to over 50 farm plots in the Kagman area that are managed by the Division of Agriculture. More than 75% of the island’s vegetable and fruit harvest comes from the Kagman farm plots and represents about 10% of the annual agricultural production of the territory.  The solar energy generated from these PV systems will eliminate the division’s annual electric bill of $90,000.

U.S. Virgin Islands Schneider Regional Medical Center, St. Thomas – $380,752 to Modernize the Hospital’s Chiller Plant — By replacing three existing chillers with high efficiency models.  The new high-efficiency chillers are essential to provide air conditioning to the hospital and will result in an estimated 25% reduction in electricity consumption for the hospital.

Virgin Islands Energy Office – $310,000 for Energy Efficiency Market Potential Project and $200,000 to Create Sustainable Market Opportunities for Distributed Generation Market Structure.  The funds will provide for two priority projects under the U.S. Virgin Islands Energy Roadmap.  The first is to establish benchmarks and baselines to track building energy usage and identify high-impact energy conservation measures. Funding will be used to conduct investment-grade audits in a representative sample of buildings (commercial, hotel, residential, etc.) and review different approaches to encourage investment in efficiency measures.

The funding will also provide for a grid integration study, an economic analysis of the return on investment for distributed solar generation, and training for policymakers on different approaches to solar energy as they develop legislation, regulations, and agency operating procedures to implement a comprehensive energy policy for the territory.  This will supplement work previously carried out in the territory under the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Development in Island Nations pilot project.

The Secretary of the Interior is responsible for coordinating federal policy with respect to the territories of the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and administering and overseeing U.S. federal assistance provided to the freely associated states of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau under the Compacts of Free Association. On behalf of the Secretary, the Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas executes these responsibilities through the Office of Insular Affairs whose mission is to foster economic opportunities, promote government efficiency, and improve the quality of life for the people of the insular areas.

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John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy has been reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands since 1989. He is originally from Detroit, Michigan.

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