Wind power in Guam: GPA plan puts wind farm on island grid

Can Guam harness the power of the wind to generate electricity? Not only do officials at the Guam Power Authority seem to think so, plans already are under way to construct monitoring stations.

The stations, according to GPA officials, are needed to determine the feasibility of a wind farm that could generate as much electricity as one of Cabras’ baseload generators.

John Cruz, GPA manager of special projects and research and development, said the idea stems from studies by the agency and its consultant, RW Beck, as well as from recent Integrated Resources Plan stakeholder meetings.

The IRP is a resource plan with consideration given to local power demands, trends in energy costs, energy source availability and environmental policies, Cruz said. He said at least three existing generators — including Tanguisson 1 and 2 and Cabras 1 — are expected to retire within the next 10 years.

Retrofitting plants to run on natural gas and the installation of wind turbines are among the utility’s long-term alternative energy plans, which have become more critical with the rising cost of oil. For most ratepayers, the fuel-recovery surcharge takes up more than half of their power bills.

Cruz said the use of wind turbines is looked at as a way to reduce the cost of producing power. And while the rising cost of oil, which powers all of Guam’s power plants, is an obvious reason, Cruz said trends in environmental policy both in the United States and abroad give reason to seriously consider wind.

For every 10 to 13 cents in production cost for a kilowatt hour, findings suggest it may be possible for the agency to save about 1 to 2 cents by using wind turbines, Cruz said.

When you consider the scale of GPA’s operations — a capacity of about 550 megawatts, according to the utility’s Web site — this is substantial. One megawatt-hour equals 1,000 kilowatt-hours.

Looking into the future, policy trends are a factor in providing GPA an incentive to use wind — a renewable source of energy.

And while it has not already happened, Cruz said it is likely Congress will eventually pass some type of "carbon tax" that would discourage the use of greenhouse-gas-emitting energy sources. He added that states throughout the country have passed laws targeting specific amounts of emissions to reduce by a certain number of years.

"We are in the process right now of getting a list of places that would be the best places to put up monitoring stations," Cruz said.

He said RW Beck is researching potential sites for the stations and once the sites are determined and GPA bids out the work to construct them, the utility will begin a yearlong monitoring program to obtain wind data. The data will determine the best design for a wind turbine farm.

"By 2011, hopefully we can have (the wind turbines) installed," Cruz said. Cruz said the plan is currently to set up a 40-megawatt wind farm.

According to Pacific Daily News files, this is the same amount produced by each of Cabras baseload generators 3 and 4. According to Cruz, GPA will need at least 20 wind turbines, and they don’t necessarily have to be in a single location.

"GPA’s capital cost estimate for 40 megawatts is $97,075,000," he said. Based on preliminary information provided by GPA, the cost of each wind turbine would be about $4.8 million each.

Bruce Best, who does research for the University of Guam on alternative energy sources, said it’s possible to generate 40 megawatts through windmills on Guam, however there is a caveat.

In addition to the considerable amount of land needed for the windmills, there will be times when the turbines will not generate power because the wind will not be consistent, he said.

Cruz said another model GPA has looked at will begin to generate electricity at winds of 6.7 miles per hour, but the rate at which the turbine will produce at a "maximum steady state" would be at about 25 mph.

This means the model will produce the same amount of electricity beyond 25 mph, and will shut down when it reaches 56 mph to avoid breaking.

Local environmentalist Paul Tobiason applauded GPA’s plans, but adds that conservation needs to take place and more needs to be done to make government agencies accountable for the electricity they use.

"Conservation should be (viewed) as a form of alternative energy," he said, adding that more needs to be done by individuals and, particularly, government agencies to conserve electricity.

He said basic things such as water-blasting roofs and turning off lights and electronic devices when not in use are simple conservation methods.

He also said the government of Guam needs to be up front with ratepayers on how much electricity it consumes, and taxpayers should be able to go on agency Web sites and be able to read how much energy is being consumed at GovGuam agencies and offices — and paid for by taxpayers.

Guam is the largest and southernmost island in the Marianas Archipelago. The island is divided into a northern coralline limestone plateau and a southern chain of volcanic hills. Today Guam is an unincorporated, organized territory of the United States.

The people of Guam have been U.S. citizens since 1950. They have been represented in the U.S. Congress since 1973 by a nonvoting delegate, but they do not participate in presidential elections. The executive branch includes a popularly elected governor, who serves a four-year term. The legislative branch is a 21-member unicameral legislature whose members are elected every two years.

Guam was probably explored by the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan (sailing for Spain) in 1521. The island was formally claimed by Spain in 1565, and its people were forced into submission and conversion to Roman Catholicism beginning in 1668.

After the Spanish-American War of 1898, Spain ceded Guam to the United States. From 1899 to 1949, the U.S. Navy administered Guam, except during the Japanese occupation from 1941–1944. Guam was liberated by American military forces in the summer of 1944. Guam’s economy is based on tourism and U.S. military spending (U.S. naval and air force bases occupy one-third of the land on Guam).

Land area: 212 sq mi (549 sq km). Population (2008 est.): 175,877.

By By Carlos B. Pangelinan, Pacific Sunday News,