WHITEFISH, MT—U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke last week 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. In addition Zinke announced energy grants for the U.S. Virgin Islands.
American Samoa will receive $1,163,228, Guam $1,072,827, the Northern Mariana Islands $658,692, and the U.S. Virgin Islands $594,680 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. 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.