RFP readied for cheaper water desalination plant

Posted on Jun 10 1999

The Commonwealth Utilities Corporation will soon begin its search for cheaper technology under a new request for proposal (RFP) to push a long-stalled water desalination project for Saipan, officials said yesterday.

Expected to be issued within the next few weeks, the new RFP will emphasize the cost of the project as the initial bid drew little support from residents and leaders for its expensive proposition.

A committee formed by CUC to study the proposal is currently reviewing a bid package that will be the sole reference for potential contractors of the proposed desal plant, according to its chair, board director Ben Sablan.

“This project has dragged for too long… Now that CUC has earlier experience in this area and understanding on the desal technology, the price will definitely be a lot cheaper,” he said in an interview.

The cost has been a thorny issue since the government began to mull over the plan nearly four years, but CUC abandoned the initial offer last March and decided to start from scratch in hopes to find a less expensive means of building the plant.

Under the old proposal, CUC customers would have to pay ten-fold than their current utility bills to finance the $100 million project offered by Earth Tech, a U.S. water technology and engineering firm.

A survey conducted by the government-owned utility company early this year showed people’s disapproval on the cost-sharing agreement, prompting CUC to scrap the proposal.

“The price is going to be lower this time,” Sablan said. “We are hoping that if we do this again and look at other areas that had not been looked at in the first place, this will give us a better leverage now with respect to what exactly we expect to get back from these offers.”

CUC expects to solicit more companies to allow more competition which will help push down the cost, according to the utility director who represents Saipan to the board.

“All the offers in the past should get the message already that the major concern of the consumers is the price, not just technology,” Sablan added.

A common means of providing water in several island nations, the technology will produce potable water from the sea in a highly effective, but costly process viewed as last hope by Saipan residents perennially hit by dry wells.

The desal plant, however, is just one of the alternatives mapped out by CUC as part of its water development program. At present, crews have been drilling wells at Mt. Tapochau to tap new source for central villages of Garapan, Gualo Rai, Chinatown and others.

Sablan said CUC will try to expedite its search for less expensive desal technology to complement the ongoing project. “Hopefully with the experiences that the water task force had and CUC staff with their participation in the initial RFP, it would expedite this project a little bit faster.”

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