Open for bids for $1.2 million geothermal study on Saipan, Mariana Islands

Open for bids for $1.2 million geothermal study on Saipan, Mariana Islands Saipan, Northern Marianas, west Pacific Ocean (source: flickr/ Matt Watts, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 22 Aug 2011

A local utility in the Northern Marianas Islands in the western Pacific Ocean, is putting out a tender for a US$1.2 million study to investigate the viability of tapping geothermal power on Saipan.

In news from Saipan, Mariana Islands in the Pacifici, a tender has been put out by “the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. … for a company to investigate the viability of tapping geothermal power on Saipan.”

“In a request for proposal issued early this month, the corporation is asking experts on geothermal energy to check the feasibility of geothermal energy development on the island. It seeks qualified and experienced firms to explore for and develop geothermal energy for the purpose of generating electricity.

CUC executive director Abe Utu Malae disclosed to Saipan Tribune that the Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs is paying up to $1.2 million of the cost of the geothermal investigation.

CUC believes that Saipan’s proximity to the active Mariana volcanic arc, extensional faulting, and the occurrence of shallow water wells with anomalous temperature suggest that sufficient geothermal resources may exist beneath Saipan to support generation of electricity using binary plant technology.

If it turns out from the experts’ investigation that it is feasible, then CUC will invite companies to bid on the actual development and commissioning of a geothermal energy power plant, Malae said. If the results are negative, then CUC will have to continue with other renewable energy sources.

“We are hoping for good results. If not, then we go back to diesel or LNG and renewables other than geothermal,” said Malae.

According to him, a geothermal energy plant can be used as a base load, just like the diesel power plants currently in use on all three islands.

“A geothermal energy plant is base load because power is usually reliable, constant, and is able to supply at least 50 percent of the total load of a grid. Wind and solar are intermittent in nature and are therefore not considered base load,” he explained.

Malae described the current setup for the island’s power system as “critical” because of the limited lifespan of the Lower Base power plant.

“We in the CNMI are at a critical point in time for power system planning because the base load diesel plant at Lower Base has about seven years of life remaining. That means we have to start planning very soon to replace that plant. The parallel path of development with diesel is geothermal,” he said.

Malae disclosed that the oldest engines at the power plant are vintage 1979.

At a recent annual general meeting in Guam of the Pacific Power Association, member companies of trade associations described the work in geothermal energy they had already performed in places such as New Zealand, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea.”

The Marianas Islands group is located in the Pacific, south of Japan, East of the Philippines and North of Papua New Guinea

Source: Saipan Tribune