Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. officials joined Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, and members of the Legislature at the Commonwealth Health Center parking lot on Monday to break ground on the hospital’s solar power project.
CHCC chief executive officer Esther L. Muña said that CHCC is estimated to save as much as $700,000 on its utility bills once the solar project at the hospital’s grounds is completed by next year.
“It will definitely reap some savings for us. We’re looking at about $700,000 in the first five years after the project is completed. It reduces the use of fossil fuels and it requires us to promote use of other energy resources so that’s something that we’re looking forward to,” said Muña.
The project, called the Photovoltaic System Parking Shade Structure, is made possible after CHCC received a $560,000 grant from the Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs. The project is expected to be completed on April 6, 2019.
Muña said the project is long overdue for a healthcare facility like CHC, as it would save them money that they can use for other services. “When you think about utility cost, it is one of the top three items that is of huge expense for us.”
“Whatever savings that we get for our organization, will basically go back to the community. What we do with that savings is to likely expand our services and improve quality. We are very excited with this project.”
She added that the hospital consumes a lot of energy due to the 24-hour air-conditioning and the equipment they use everyday. “Obviously, we consume a lot of energy. So we want to reduce that.”
Monday’s groundbreaking is only for the first phase of the project that would cover the entire parking lot of the hospital. “The first phase will cover section D of the parking lot. We’re applying for other grants so we could continue all the way to the north side.”
Muña thanked Assistant Secretary Douglas V. Domenech and his team for approving the funding for the project.
“Thank you also to Gov. Torres and Lt. Gov. [Victor] Hocog for always supporting CHCC’s projects. To the Legislature, your support would ensure that we could provide continued healthcare that is accessible and affordable to the community,” Muña said.
The groundbreaking was also attended by CHCC board chair Lauri Ogumoro and Hocog.
Alternative energy source
Torres and Ogumoro said it is about time to take advantage of the CNMI’s tropical weather and harness sunlight as a source of energy that would save the hospital money.
“We’re trying to get an alternative source of energy here. We have sunlight all year-round. The solar panels would reduce utility costs and then create a similar parking space like [the Marianas Business Plaza],” said Torres.
“Now you’re going to have a parking [lot] that has shade, keeps you dry, and, on top of that, there’s solar panels. They can do other activities here in the evening as well.”
Ogumoro added: “Solar panels are the best way to harness the energy that’s always been available in the CNMI. …This is what’s happening all over the world and we’re finally catching up.”
“Things are finally getting underway. We’re looking forward to the first and second phases. It has been a work in progress and thanks to the team at CHCC, we’re finally going to start Phase 1. [The sunlight] out here is what we want to harness for the [hospital],” Ogumoro added.
The CNMI Office of Grants Management collaborated with CHCC in making sure that the CNMI would get the grant from OIA.
“Thank you for working collaboratively with our grants office. Everytime we have groundbreaking we can’t wait for ribbon cutting,” said Torres.
Torres also encouraged the CNMI State Public School System to study the project so they too can reduce their energy dependency.