The Hybrid Guam Land Use Commission approved a zone-variance application for a renewable energy facility in the Sasayan Valley during a meeting yesterday despite cultural, environmental and safety concerns raised by members of the community.
The Guam Power Authority plans to buy solar power from an investment partnership between Korea Electric Power Corp., South Korea's state-run power company, and a subsidiary of electronics and appliance giant LG CNS. The investors' partnership, called KEPCO-LG CNS Consortium, is expected to build two 30-megawatt solar power plants in the area.
KEPCO-LG submitted a conditional-use application with the hybrid commission.
G. Curt Fiedler, associate professor of biology at the University of Guam, said a population of very rare snails – the fragile tree snail (Samoana fragilis) – inhabits the area near the proposed facility. According to Fiedler, the snails are protected by the Endangered Species Act.
"There are only four or five other populations on Guam of these snails, and none of those populations are any more than 100 individuals, from what I can tell," he said during the hearing.
Fiedler, who specializes in endangered species, said a host plant for the Mariana eight-spot butterfly (Hypolimnas octocula marianensis) was also identified near the area.
He said studies indicate that the air temperature around a solar farm increases by several degrees. The temperature changes could dry out the adjacent areas, according to Fiedler.
"It could change the moisture profile and impact some of the native organisms in the surrounding forests," he said. "My concern is that the impact of the power plant does not negatively affect those native species."
Joaquin Flores, representing TG Engineers, said the investors have responded to concerns raised by the community regarding the proposal. TG Engineers was retained by KEPCO-LG to secure the conditional-use permit.
Flores said KEPCO-LG has coordinated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to discuss, at length, the biological surveys that would be conducted at the project site.
"We did discover a host plant for the butterfly species, the Mariana eight-spot," Flores said. "However, our chief biologists have reported they haven't seen that butterfly for the last 38 years."
According to Flores, they did not pursue biological surveys outside the perimeter of the proposed site.
In response to concerns over a temperature change, Flores said that heat disperses quickly in a very large solar field, back to ambient temperature.
Flores said they did not find snails within the 250-acre site. Surveyors also did not find any endangered species, he said, with the exception of the fadang.
He said that they have committed to work with the Department of Agriculture to transplant the fadang.
KEPCO-LG expects to start construction in March, depending on the building-permit review process, with a completion goal of December 2019 to early 2020, according to Flores.