SAIPAN – Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Gov. Ralph Torres, Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios, Board of Education members, acting Education Commissioner Eric Magofna and other officials launched the CNMI Public School System's solar energy system on Thursday.
The ceremony, which was held in the Marianas High School cafeteria, marked the start of PSS's "journey toward a cleaner (energy) alternative," Magofna said, adding that PSS is the first school system in the region to utilize large-scale green energy technology, "so we are very happy for that."
The solar energy system will be installed by Micronesia Renewable Energy Inc. under a power purchase agreement.
There is no cost to PSS for the initial installation of the solar panels and other equipment.
Magofna said PSS will start making payments to MRE once the system starts producing power and schools start using the power produced by the solar panels.
It is going to be like PSS's monthly utility bills, he said, but with significant savings for the school system.
PSS finance and budget director Arlene Lizama said PSS spends about $2 million on power annually while hooked to the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. power grid.
She said once the solar energy system "kicks in," the estimated savings will amount to $1 million (a year).
In a separate interview, MRE Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Voacolo said the installation of the school system's solar energy system "is a multimillion-dollar project."
He added, "We're extremely lucky that we got financing from a local bank, Bank of Guam. We are very lucky."
PSS's solar energy system will "transform" all the 20 elementary, middle and high school campuses in Saipan, Tinian and Rota into "renewable energy hubs," Magofna said.
PSS, he added, issued a request for proposals in January 2020. Of the six companies that responded, MRE's proposal was chosen by PSS, which entered into a power purchase agreement, or PPA, with the company in March 2020. The school board approved the project in July 2020.
"Now, here we are today, alongside Micronesia Renewable Energy, launching our solar energy project by installing our solar energy systems at all of our schools. I am glad that with this PPA with MRE, it is now becoming a reality," Magofna said on Thursday.
"PSS is the first school system in the region to take on the solar power initiative," he added.
Board of Education Chairman Andrew Orsini said, "This is a milestone for both PSS and the CNMI."
"It is historic for PSS," he added, as he recalled the enactment of Public Law 18-75 six years ago to "prioritize the interconnection with net metering for health and education renewable energy capacity."
Orsini commended former Sen. Pete Reyes, who authored the law, Sen. Paul Manglona, who co-sponsored it, and then-Gov. Eloy Inos for signing the measure.
Orsini also recognized former BOE Chairwoman Janice Tenorio. He said it was under her leadership that the project proposal was brought up and approved by the board last year.
Tenorio said the board wanted PSS to be a "role model" for the entire CNMI when it comes to green energy.
The governor congratulated PSS and BOE "for this great initiative."
Torres added, "This is monumental in the sense that we are showing to the whole world that we can harness solar energy power ... for our public schools," as he also thanked MRE for investing in the CNMI.
Voacolo, who has been in the energy infrastructure business for 45 years now, said the PSS solar energy system "will be showcased not only throughout Micronesia, but the world."