By Dana Williams
Much of the damage inflicted on the island’s power system by Typhoon Mawar could have been prevented if transmission lines were underground, but moving lines and hardening the system would cost about $7 billion, according to Guam Power Authority General Manager John Benavente.
That would double or triple power rates, he told participants at a Guam
Chamber of Commerce Business Recovery Summit on July 7. And it is unlikely anyone would lend Guam the money.
A grassroots initiative advocated by Ginger Cruz and Consolidated Commission on Utilities member Simon A. Sanchez would shift the burden of paying for the power improvements to the federal government.
Hardening Guam’s infrastructure, they argue, is a matter of national defense and military readiness. And the threat of storms is only going to get worse.
GPA is the sole energy provider for civilians and military on Guam, and the island’s small population cannot shoulder a multi-billion dollar investment.
“Typhoon Mawar exposed a significant weakness in America’s ability to protect the citizens of our country, despite the major military buildup occurring in Guam,” Sanchez said.
The National Weather Service recently said Guam can expect three to five more typhoons this year. Cruz, who is the CEO of a consulting firm involved in defense contracting support, said the issue of climate security has grown in importance since 2010.
The Department of Defense has incorporated climate change into its planning and strategy and has produced a number of reports involving readiness and climate change.
“It's an entire mental shift that is going on in Washington, D.C., moving everybody to understand that you have to invest and protect against the climate threats because it's a threat multiplier. China knows that. North Korea knows it. Everybody knows that,” she said. “So a $7 billion investment to ensure that you’re climate secure and climate resilient is a matter of national security. It is a matter of global security.”
But climate security is only part of the reason an investment is necessary, Sanchez said.
“The national threat from China and North Korea has substantially increased as well, and Guam’s readiness against potential conflict with these nations requires strong and resilient power and water infrastructure,” he said.
Infrastructure improvements will have a financial benefit as well. Sanchez noted that damages from Mawar were less devastating than those from Pongsona in 2002 because wooden power poles had been replaced by concrete poles. In the long run, repair costs are lower.
During Mawar, the only GPA customers who didn’t lose power were on Andersen Air Force Base, where lines are underground. Benavente said the base has not lost power since 2012.
Cruz urged Chamber members to become involved in the initiative, called Mauleg Para Todos, by writing letters and voicing support.
“We wanted to sort of organize this so that it’s in a fashion where, you know, we can build it like a snowball and get everybody sort of pushing in the same direction,” she said. “The first would be the White House because we need to get this added into the budget.”
Next would be the Secretary of Defense, followed by the House Armed Services Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Sanchez noted that Del. James Moylan has included a provision in the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act for the military to study Guam’s power infrastructure and report back to Congress. He said a similar effort should be undertaken for water infrastructure.
“Investing in Guam is investing in America,” he said. “Protecting Guam is protecting America.”