Imagine this landscape: Solar panels on every roof, solar farms and wind turbines spanning vast fields on island. Guam has set an ambitious goal to wean itself from fossil fuel and join other cities in the world that are setting themselves on a 100 percent renewable energy path.
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has signed into law a bill that would require the Guam Power Authority to include 50 percent renewable energy in its portfolio by 2035, and 100 percent by 2045.
“This is a bold statement of our desire to free ourselves from fossil fuels and affirm our commitment to a green future,” said Sen. Amanda Shelton, author of Bill 80-35, now Public Law 35-46. “We must set the bar high, because our future is counting on us. This bill represents nothing less than an inflection point in the history of our island.”
Hawaii, Maine, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., California, New Mexico, Washington, New York and Nevada all have similar laws targeting full-capacity, renewable energy by 2045.
Prior to the enactment of the new law, Guam’s goal was 25 percent renewable energy by 2035. Currently, 6 percent of GPA’s energy portfolio comes from renewable energy, with the agency foreseen to meet the 25-percent energy target in 2022, a full 13 years early.
Stakeholders are confident that the target is achievable even ahead of the timeline. “We’re predicting that we will be 50 percent by 2025,” said Jeffrey Voacolo, vice president of Micronesia Renewable Energy.
That’s because the industry is growing fast, especially with the ability to store energy in batteries that can be used completely off the GPA power grid. Voacolo said that if pertinent grants and programs were implemented, Guam could achieve 100 percent by 2030.
Stakeholders are confident that the target is achievable even ahead of the timeline. “We’re predicting that we will be 50 percent by 2025,” said Jeffrey Voacolo, vice president of Micronesia Renewable Energy, Inc.
Four years ago, MRE launched its Solar Host program, which involves installing solar panels on homeowners’ rooftops. Electricity generated from these panels powers the home, while the extra energy goes back to GPA. Homeowners get credit for every kilowatt-hour their private systems produce, explained Joe Rosario, MRE’s business development director.
Voacolo said having these solar hosts is a win for everyone. “It’s zero costs to the Government of Guam, and zero costs to the utilities.” The program allows homeowners to pay less for power, if they’re participants in this Solar Host program.
Rosario added that their program creates on-island jobs for people, noting that the project requires maintenance of the rooftop panels. “It’s a long-term, sustainable job in the next 25 years,” he said.
Solar panels, instead of solar farms, are more suitable for Guam, Rosario said, noting that Guam is in “Typhoon Alley.” A solar farm could be destroyed, and if it were, it would take years, and prohibitive costs, to rebuild.
Rosario noted that Saipan had a series of typhoons in the past few years, and homes equipped with solar panels had them restored within weeks.
Rosario said MRE followed a program from a company in San Antonio, Texas, with a company called CPS Energy that is also doing a solar host type of program, solar panels on homeowners rooftops.
Shelton is confident the goal of 100 percent renewable power is achievable. “To get there, we need support from all areas of our community to decide what options and programs are best for Guam,” she said.
The new law authorizes GPA to engage in “distributed generation” via a Community Solar Host program. “Distributed generation” is a model wherein the generation of power is spread out, or distributed, across the grid. The current model of generation relies on more centralized generation, wherein the bulk of the power produced comes from large power plants.
“It’s like the old saying goes, don’t put all of your eggs into one basket. Why do we say this? Because if that basket breaks, you lose all of your eggs,” said Sen. Clynt Ridgell, co-author of P.L. 35-46. “With conventional power generation, if a large power plant goes down, you lose a lot of power generation in one shot. If you spread that power generation across an electric grid via a distributed generation model, you spread the risk, and you prevent yourself from putting all of your eggs into one basket.”
In a resolution adopted last April, the Commission on Consolidated Utilities said GPA has completed its Renewable Integration Study supporting the technical feasibility of integrating 50 percent of renewable energy into GPA's grid, once the recommended infrastructure projects are completed. It also said the power authority has begun work on an implementation plan, and its Phase IV Renewable Energy Acquisition multi-step, bid procurement documents.
GPA marked the beginning of Guam’s leap forward into renewable energy in 2015, with the opening of the island’s first solar farm in Dandan, Inarajan. Built in partnership with NRG Renew LLC, the 25.6-megawatt plant is Guam’s largest such facility, with more than 120,000 solar photovoltaic panels. This facility integrates solar power into the existing GPA grid, providing about 10 percent of the grid load.
In May 2017, GPA and the U.S. Navy signed a 32-year lease agreement that authorizes GPA to install solar panels on 164 acres of Navy property, which generates 40MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) generation. In that same month, GPA entered into a $35 million contract with South Korea’s LG CNS to procure 40MW of energy system storage (ESS). The project — consisting of one 24MW ESS at the Hagåtña Substation and another 16MW ESS at the Talofofo Substation —
was aimed at eliminating approximately 80 percent of the short power outages that have been impacting the power system whenever a generator trips.
In 2018, GPA signed two separate contracts for solar photovoltaics projects that will enable it to generate a total of 120 megawatts. GPA’s renewable energy contract with Korean Electric Power Corp. and LG CNS Consortium is part of its Phase II renewable acquisition of a 60MW project, which is anticipated to contribute 9 percent of Guam’s energy needs.
GPA spends nearly $200 million a year in annual fuel purchases. The new law is intended, and expected to, eliminate that cost.
(With additional reports from Mar-Vic Cagurangan)
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