(Featured Image)NRG Renew Dandan in Inarajan, Guam’s first solar facility, officially opened on Oct. 7, collecting enough sunlight to produce 25.6 MW of power for up to 10,000 homes.
By Shaina Marie Santos
While struggling to restore lost power capacity, GPA simultaneously seizes the opportunity to advance and diversify the island’s power sources
From a power plant explosion on Guam to the typhoon-damaged power infrastructure in Saipan, power struggles in the Marianas abound. Guam Power Authority and the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. are both knee-deep in recovery efforts and plans to support businesses, streets and homes and bring the region back to full capacity.
After Typhoon Soudelor pummeled Saipan on Aug. 2, causing widespread damage to include loss of property and utility systems, the CUC reported that the storm scattered broken power poles and downed wires across roads and buildings.
In addition to damages to the island’s power distribution system, Saipan’s power generation facilities were rendered inoperable. Due to the lack of power generation capabilities, water could not be pumped into reservoirs to provide island residents with water service.
The CUC projected that all of the primary lines on each of Saipan’s eight feeders would be online by the end of September, with the majority of the island back on island power by the end of October.
Per a Sept. 24 update from the CUC, Saipan’s generating capacity is 35 megawatts at Power Plant One, with 8.4 MW standing in reserve at Power Plant Four. Power Plant One is producing electricity for the whole island. Another 10 MW was expected to come online by press time. Saipan’s daytime peak demand is around 20 MW with an evening peak around 19.5 MW.
While a number of GPA’s linemen were in Saipan to aid with recovery, disaster struck Guam’s power system. On Aug. 31, an explosion and major fire broke out at the Cabras 3 and 4 power plants on Cabras Island. The blast caused extensive damage and debilitated the two base-load power plants. The capacity of Cabras 3 and 4 is 79 MW, and they are the island’s two most efficient base load plants.
According to John M. Benavente, general manager of GPA, the 79 MW lost is enough to power 20,000 homes. As a result of the explosion and an additional decrease in generator capacity when remaining generators were taken off-line for repair and maintenance, GPA was forced to load shed circuits and implement rolling outages.
“Machines have to come up and down for maintenance and repair, and you have to have the reserve to be able to serve the power continuously,” Benavente says. “Now that we [have] lost two of our main base-load units, we have to run all of the other smaller ones. When you have a whole bunch more running, potentially you’re going to have more problems or interruptions.”
Benavente asks customers for patience as the authority implements its plan to restore full capacity.
“GPA will be vulnerable to situations like this at least for the next few months until we can implement alternative solutions,” says Artemio S. Perez, communications manager of GPA. “In the interim, GPA does have priority listings to avoid impacting critical loads, such as the hospital and schools. Outages to other areas would be on a rotational basis of one hour.”
Solutions were presented to the Consolidated Commission on Utilities on Sept. 9 and approved on Sept. 22. The commission unanimously passed resolutions Nos. 2015-44 Interruptible Load Program and 2015-47 New Cabras Transformer as part of mitigation efforts to increase generation capacity and reserves to the island-wide power system.
Before any repairs can begin on the building that houses Cabras 3 and Cabras 4, it must be deemed safe for entry. The Aug. 31 explosion blew a large hole in the plant’s roof, which has also partially collapsed. Benavente says the roof must be removed before its crew can make assessments.
“Once that’s done we’ll begin the process of determining what happened [and] how we repair it. Right now, we [can] just make our best judgment, our best guess. We have plans to begin repairs. We have people prepared to come and investigate. We’re just posturing everything so we can just move once we can get into the building,” he says.
Though the downed generators have put a certain amount of pressure on GPA, Joseph T. Duenas, chairman of the Guam Consolidated Commission on Utilities, says it also provides an opportunity to fast-forward plans for its next generation of power units to be built in Harmon.
“We’ve already made that decision with our plan to build new generation up in Harmon with what we call combined-cycle units. These are a different kind — very clean-burning ultra-low sulfur diesel,” he says. “We weren’t sure which units we would want to keep a little longer. If we go in and we find out that the unit that had the explosion and the fire is beyond economical repair, then we will collect on insurance, and that’s an opportunity.”
Duenas says the incident at Cabras 3 and Cabras 4 was serendipitous for GPA by making the authority and CCU move closer to generation goals it had already set.
“It’s like you have a car and you get in a bad accident,” he says. “Nobody got hurt, thank God, but the car is totaled. The frame is bent, so the insurance [company] gives you money. So you take that money, and that begins your start for the new car. But you were already thinking, ‘Do I want a new car? This one gets only 20 miles per gallon. That new hybrid is now 40 miles per gallon. The air conditioning is not working on this one; I have to get it fixed. Do I want to pay more money to fix the air conditioning or just get a new car?’ [It] kind of made up your mind for you.”
GPA has determined to retire at least two of its current base-load units, specifically Cabras 1 and Cabras 2, which are currently essential in serving the island’s power grid. Cabras 1 and Cabras 2 are each 40 years old; Cabras 3 and Cabras 4 are each 20 years old; and Cabras 8 and Cabras 9 are approximately 16 years old.
“We know for the over 40-year-old units, from a policy perspective, what it would take to extend [their lives] if we want to or if we don’t want to, but the policy call after [Benavente] gives us all the information would be, ‘Well, it’s now time to retire them,’” Duenas says. “Cabras 1 and 2 [were] very efficient in their day; they were very good. Mr. Benavente and his group have explained to us that they pose a problem because they’re so big that when you take them down [for maintenance], you’re out so much generation. The thought is now [we] want to go to smaller units. So that when you take a smaller unit out, you’re not out that much generation.”
A potential three smaller combined-cycle units have been proposed for a location in the vicinity of the Guam Waterworks Authority Northern Wastewater Treatment Plant by 2019. says John J. Cruz, strategic planning and operations research division manager for GPA, says GPA is looking at the feasibility of further processing grey water from secondary treated effluent to provide water for the new power plant, which will eliminate the use of approximately three million gallons of fresh water from the island’s aquifers.
“180 MW is our target for new conventional generation,” Cruz says. “When we contract this out, it will be a contract for 120 MW up front with an option to put in another 60 MW.”
Benavente says the next generation of conventional generation will provide more efficiency and stability to GPA.
“[With combined-cycle] generation, the units are more reliable, less complicated, require less personnel to operate and so, therefore, are really the choice of the way to generate conventional energy,” Benavente says. “There’s an opportunity now to put a system in that will serve us for years.”
The system GPA looks to in the future also includes plans for renewable energy. The authority has come up with a three-phase plan to implement systems to generate up to 120 MW of renewable energy for GPA’s grid.
“About three, four years ago, we said we wanted to do 120 MW of renewable energy,” Duenas says. “That’s a goal. We started out with our first solicitation for 40 MW. The 40 MW [solicitation] actually produced 25 MW.”
The first phase — 25 MW of renewable energy — was officially opened Oct. 7 by bringing 120,000 solar photovoltaic panels online at the NRG Renew Dandan 25.6 MW solar facility in Inarajan.
Construction of the project began in March 2014 with coordinated efforts by NRG Renew, GPA, Quantum Power Inc. and Guam Solar Properties LLC. From tests run in September, the Inarajan facility was already generating power for GPA’s grid.
“We’ve been keeping an eye on it to see how our system is balancing that out,” Cruz says. “[…] It’s done well.”
The project for the solar facility was acquired from Quantum Guam Power Holdings LLC, an affiliate of Quantum Utility Generation LLC, by NRG Energy Inc. through its subsidiary, NRG Renew. Through two 25-year power-purchase agreements, GPA will pay for energy produced by NRG instead of having to produce it themselves. The facility will offset GPA’s consumption of residual fuel oil and diesel by almost two million barrels and will produce enough power for up to 10,000 homes.
“For GPA, that’s a step in the right direction,” says Scott Hagen, general manager of Pacific Solar & Photovoltaics. “They’ve done a 180 [degree turn] over the past couple of years. In the beginning they wanted to put a halt to all solar connecting to the grid because they thought [about] revenue losses, but the revenue losses due to inefficiencies are much greater than [revenue] losses due to solar. I think it remains to be seen whether or not GPA customers will see any savings in their power bills.”
When the price was originally bid, the cost for solar energy was comparable to oil. However, since then, the price of oil has dropped drastically. Cruz says the price per KWH for solar power is nearly double that of the residual fuel oil Guam depends on: 19.5 cents per KWH of solar compared to 10 cents per KWH of oil. At the time of the bid, Cruz says the cost for generation at the Tanguisson Power Plant was nearly 30 cents per KWH.
The extra cost, however, pays for peace of mind with reliable rates and a sturdy structure.
“There has been an enormous drop in the price of oil,” Cruz says. “How long it lasts, I don’t know. This happened before. In 2007, [oil] dropped down to $35 a barrel from almost $150. It’s up to the market.”
Though the price for solar is at a premium, Cruz says it should be put into perspective. Solar power from the Inarajan facility will only make up 5% of GPA’s total energy production. According to a release from NRG Renew, the facility will provide up to 10% of GPA’s grid load in renewable energy.
Phase two of GPA’s renewables goal, however, may bring that percentage higher. Phase two of the plan looks to engage in another potential power-purchase agreement to provide 40 MW of power.
“[Benavente] is reviewing the recommendations for the Phase II Renewable Acquisition Bid,” Cruz says. “No decisions have been made yet.”
Phase three of the plan looks to obtain renewable energy through a partnership with the Navy.
“We’ve been working with them for the last four-and-a-half years to come up with a partnership,” Cruz says. “Several months ago, the Department of the Navy issued a request for qualifications for firms on Guam who have a grid. As part of that solicitation, they’re posturing us for negotiation to use 192 acres of federal property to put renewable energy on.”
Jeffrey Voacolo, vice president of Micronesia Renewable Energy Inc., says the goal should be to eliminate the need for conventional generation to benefit both the economy and environment.
“[The world] reached peak oil about five years ago — peak oil meaning that we will run out of oil in the years to come,” Voacolo says. “It’s just crazy, the amount of money that Guam exports for fossil fuel, and we need to stop that. We need to finally get free of fossil fuel and have energy independence and not just that — we need to clean up our planet. We should be 100% fossil fuel free by 2025. We’re one island — we’re a lot smaller than Hawaii — and it’s definitely possible.”
While the focus is on renewable energy, other options for the island have been considered, including the harnessing of wind and hydro power.
“All of our bids have been open to any of those,” Cruz says. “We’ve done some wind studies. There are some wind resources on Guam, but there’s a very stringent building code. That adds substantially to the cost of wind generation. In addition, if they’re going to survive on Guam with the typhoons, they have to have some backup generation so that they can pitch into the wind, so they can avoid getting blown away and getting damaged.”
Cruz says a wind project that GPA bid out to Pacific Green Resources has not materialized.
“They have to have something in place by March of next year,” Cruz said. “That’s the sunset on that contract. It’s not moving right now. They don’t have anything up yet.”
A small wind turbine project is also being developed near Tarzan Falls, Cruz says, through a grant from the Office of Insular Affairs and the Department of the Interior. The project is to put up a 275 KW turbine, which is expected to be operational by early November and will be managed by GPA.
More controversially, perhaps, the use of liquefied natural gas and waste-to-energy facilities has also been included in the energy discussion.
“GPA has not been a party to any waste-to-energy project,” Cruz says. “If the federal government did request that a portion of [the] renewable energy [project] be sort of like a waste-to-energy power plant, we would consider it. We think a good waste-to-energy project could have really good benefits for the island.”
Cruz says if waste-to-energy were to be seriously considered, it would need to be done for the least cost in a transparent manner in line with all the island’s interests. He adds that GPA has included it as an eligible option for its solicitations.
“All our solicitations for phase one and phase two have listed biomass, which is a form of waste-to-energy and municipal waste-fueled power plants as one of the eligible technologies on the bid. A lot of firms have gone out and said, ‘We want to put waste-to-energy,’ but they have not proposed a bid, which is governed by a need to provide the lowest cost. We have put that in as an eligible technology, and no waste-to-energy provider has stepped up,” Cruz says.
Cruz says to implement liquefied natural gas as an alternative fuel is not an economical option for the island. In the United States, he says, LNG is administered by pipeline gas, which is distributed across and between states through an infrastructure built for LNG.
“You can’t build a 6,000-mile pipeline under the ocean for any reasonable cost,” Cruz says. “A lot of the international markets are served by ships bringing in liquefied natural gas.”
To achieve this, Cruz says the gas is cooled to cryogenic temperatures, condensing the gas before it is put on ships for transport. After arrival at its destination, the LNG must be re-gassed for it to expand and be used.
“It is technically a feasible [option],” he says. “At a higher cost of fuel, it would be a very good one; but right now, fuel is at a low point, so it doesn’t make sense to start working on that now.”
Until GPA’s long-term goals are met with repairs to Cabras 3 and Cabras 4 and as its renewables plan gets underway, the authority has plans to implement an energy storage system to supplement the island-wide power system.
Cruz explains that when a generator trips, GPA needs to supply an equal amount of power to exactly match the demand. If the balance is shifted to where GPA does not have enough generation capability to meet customer demand, frequency starts to decay, which can result in negative consequences, such as damage to motors, and can cause the power grid to black out. To protect the generators and customers’ belongings and to ensure the grid does not black out, an automatic load shedding scheme is in place to sense the frequency drop and shed load based on the frequency. Cruz says this causes 60% of GPA’s outages. The contract for the energy storage system project aims to mitigate these types of outages.
“This energy storage system will inject power when a generator trips,” he says. “[It] will shoot out the energy and try to maintain the system frequency until we get generation running.”
The contract, which is out for bid, is anticipated to be worth approximately $35 million. The system is expected to be located in the Agana Substation.
GPA has seen the future, and Cruz says with increased efficiency and the use of high-quality forms of generation, the authority sees cost-cutting as a major initiative.
“GPA is going to have to be smaller,” he says. “We’re going to have to find better, less costly ways of doing things. We need to see a GPA that has a lot of the cost cut out.”
Cruz explains that when the Tanguisson Power Plant was retired, 42 employees who serviced the plant were shifted to fill outstanding vacancies. This resulted in a lower count of allowable full-time employees.
“The new power plants that will be built for 120 MW to 180 MW [will] need to be operated by 40 people,” he says. “We have more than 40 people. In the plants that we retired, it will displace [a few employees]. There are a lot of people that are eligible for retirement, and we need to manage that properly. We need to manage our own affairs. This is going to happen, we need to make sure that we’re prepared for it.”
Guam Power Authority General Manager John M. Benavente signs one of the 120,000 solar photoboltaic panels making up the NRG Renew Dandan Solar Facility, the first phase of GPA’s renewable energy goals, at the facility opening on Oct. 7 in Inarajan.