On the island of Ta'u in American Samoa, a revolutionary shift occurred in 2016.
The island dumped its total reliance on a diesel-fueled power plant, shifting to a power generating facility that harnesses energy from the sun and uses powerful batteries for storing solar energy for nighttime use.
It's a major feat for a small island, and it was noticed internationally. National Geographic writes, "In looking toward a more sustainable future, the hundreds of residents of Ta'u have put their faith in a new solar energy project, which some say they would like to see replicated around the world."
Ta'u's solar-powered microgrid was estimated to have cost $8 million, and was funded in part by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the American Samoa Power Authority, National Geographic reported. The solar project was installed by SolarCity, which has been purchased by Tesla, the company that has become an industry leader with its "power wall" solar energy storage, solar panels and solar roof tiles.
Although Ta'u's solar power plant is small – it generates power for about 600 of the island's inhabitants – Guam could pick up some lessons from this little island, as the cost of Guam's electricity has gone up with the rising cost of fossil fuels.
The Guam Power Authority and its board, also called the Consolidated Commission on Utilities, could rethink their massive, low-sulfur diesel power plant project that could cost between $200 million and $300 million. It might not be too late to scrap a massive power plant project in favor of smaller microgrids in different parts of the island.
The massive power plant plan still awaits a decision from the Legislature for a zone change for the proposed power plant site. And rate regulator Public Utilities Commission still hasn't given a final approval on this power plant project.
When GPA initially discussed replacing diesel-guzzling power plants on Cabras Island with a new power plant, but also still powered by diesel or liquefied natural gas, the technology and cost of solar storage battery systems was not yet as developed as what's available today.
From a small island like Ta'u to telecom giant Apple, solar energy is being utilized, not just as an add-on to diesel-run power plants, but as a complete replacement of older technologies that cause environmental harm. Business publication Fortune International reported that a solar plant Apple was building would cost the tech company 5 cents per kilowatt-hour over the life of the plant. That's nearly a third of what Guam customers are paying for fuel surcharge.
In February, Guam power customers saw their fuel surcharge increase to about 14.7 cents per kWh. Beginning in May, the surcharge will increase to about 15.4 cents per kWh.
The electricity cost on Guam has gone up 6 percent in the first quarter this year compared to a year earlier, according to the Guam Consumer Price Index.
It's not too late for GPA and its governing board to start over with Guam's energy future. It might not hurt to start with a clean slate.
And while Department of the Interior officials are visiting Guam this week, it might not be a bad idea for GPA, the CCU and lawmakers to reach out and see if Guam can avail of a program similar to the one used on the tiny island of Ta'u, with help from the federal government.
Sometimes big changes come in smaller microgrids, instead of one massive diesel power plant.
We can only hope the CCU and GPA's minds are open and not locked in.
If they are, maybe it's not too late to elect new CCU board members and a new set of lawmakers in November.