By Joy Santamarina
Bringing the power back to the people
In May, the Consolidated Commission on Utilities unanimously approved a request to increase the fuel surcharge portion of power bills from 11 cents per kilowatt-hour to 16.75 cents per kWh. Once adopted in August, an average residential customer consuming about 1000 kWh/month will see their monthly bill rise by about $57.56 under the new rate.
This is par for the course on Guam, where fuel surcharges are adjusted based on global fuel prices. With the world beginning to open up again, all forecasts predict the continued rise in fuel prices as demand for it steadily grows.
Combine that with the fact that the Guam Power Authority (GPA) projects the
under-recovery (GPA’s partial subsidizing of oil price increases in the past to cushion the blow to consumers) to reach about $30 million by the end of July, nobody needs a crystal ball to predict that the power rates may likely continue to increase further. In fact, the current impending increase only covers about half of the total under-recovery. To recover the full $30 million, the increase would have to go up to 20.4 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to GPA.
There are but three ways to stop the pending increases: 1) GPA increases their under-recovery by continuing to subsidize the oil price increases; 2) GPA gets further funding support under the American Rescue Plan Act; and 3) global fuel prices go down. All three are highly unlikely so Guam residents and business owners need to brace themselves for increases in their power bills.
However, all may not be lost as people can literally take the power back in their hands through sustainable energy options such as solar. Solar energy is one of the few industries globally whose prices over time have significantly been reduced. Since 2010, the cost of installing solar panels has dropped by about 65 percent.
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A decade ago, buying a solar installation was something only the well-to-do could afford. However, with today’s prices and to some degree the availability of better financing options, practically anyone can afford solar energy and save some money on their power bills.
The other powerful development in this sector is the increasing availability and affordability of battery storage systems, which, when combined with solar energy, can make individual residential homes and business establishments nearly energy independent and more resilient against power outages.
Simply put, the solar-plus- battery energy system provides power during the day through the solar panels while charging the batteries for night-time and emergency use. If there is excess energy, it is exported to the utility grid and the utility will give back credits for every kWh exported.
In essence, homes and establishments can become micro plants, more resilient not just in terms of costs versus rates charged by the utility but also against outages.
On an island like Guam, where the weather— and not to mention the browntree snakes — often disrupts the availability of electricity, this is a welcome development.
One such company on Guam that provides solar-plus-battery systems is Generation Renewable Inc. (GRI) – formerly known as Micronesia Renewable Energy. The company opened on Guam in 2012 and has seen itself grow from a humble 50-customer base company to servicing about half of the estimated 4,000 solar systems on the island.
“When we first came to Guam, solar energy was considered an alternative energy choice of power, but today, with vast amounts of monies that have been spent on research and development over the last several years, solar energy is classified as a main energy power source,” said Jeff Voacolo, GRI vice president.
Tracy Voacolo, GRI president, said the company offers a wide range of options suitable for various customer needs. Customers can opt for direct purchase, which gives the owner tax benefits, to other options such as lease, loan, and service agreements that offer the benefits without having to pay the upfront costs of purchase and installation of the system. It likewise can include maintenance, tune-ups and transfer services.
“We make is easy and convenient for the customers to avail of our products and services. We have a very experienced sales team that can guide our customers to understand the options and make the best decisions,” Jeff Voacolo said.
The name change from MRE to GRI also signals the expansion thrust of the company. From servicing Guam and Micronesia, GRI is looking at being a global player in the industry. This includes plans for an initial public offering in September that will allow GRI to fund their continued internal growth and expand through potential acquisitions both in Asia Pacific and North America.
GRI is also looking into supporting the local community further by working with Guam Community College to offer solar energy apprenticeship programs on building and maintenance.
Another Guam company whose vision includes becoming more socially responsible and environmentally conscious is Nanbo Insurance.
According to its president, Brent Butler, the thrust started out in 2018 as a simple internal waste collaboration exercise with Peggy Denney, administrator for I*Recycle Guam. Employees learned just how much trash they have in the office and how it can be reused, recycled and help the greater community.
The initiative has since expanded to include various customer promotions, starting with Go Hybrid in late 2019 and the Go Solar campaign launched this year. The campaign offers up to $350 worth of savings on your next power bill.
“All you have to do is insure your solar-powered house and get up to $350 toward your next power bill. At Nanbo, we let you enjoy great savings while helping save our environment,” Butler said.
In a highly regulated industry, Nanbo differentiates itself by focusing on its customer-friendly and reliable services – with a much better digital experience given the pandemic. These include product marketing, quotations, and payment facilities online. The offers to help their customers make wise and more environmentally-conscious choices, is a welcome plus. “It’s a small market but we try to do our part to promote more sustainable options,” Butler said.
Power increases may be inevitable, but these two companies want to offer viable options to make not only sounder and more financially viable choices, but also resilient and environmentally-friendly ones.
“Our customers can save about 6 cents per kWh vs current GPA rates. When prices go up, then they can enjoy more savings. If there’s any time to get into solar energy, it’s now,” Jeff Voacolo added.