Marshall Islands to get solar power for national grid

Agreements were exchanged on Friday in Majuro by Acting Foreign Minister, Amenta Matthew and Japan Embassy Charge d’Affaires Kazuyuki Ohdaira for the project that is expected to be developed in 2011.

Kazuyuki Ohdaira says the aim of the solar grant is to reduce Majuro’s dependence on diesel-powered electricity.

The measure is part of Japan’s climate change response program known as ’Cool Earth Partnership’.

A large array of solar panels will be placed on the roof of Majuro Hospital to feed electricity into the existing power generation system in the capital, which has a population of about 30,000.

The solar system is expected to generate about 200 kilowatts of power, about two percent of Majuro¹s current peak electricity usage that is now supplied by diesel-powered generators.

Japan officials confirmed that the grant for the Marshall Islands is part of a four-nation, $20 million project in the Pacific that will provide similar solar power to the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and Tonga.

The Marshall Islands, east of the Carolines, are divided into two chains: the western, or Ralik, group, including the atolls Jaluit, Kwajalein, Wotho, Bikini, and Eniwetok; and the eastern, or Ratak, group, including the atolls Mili, Majuro, Maloelap, Wotje, and Likiep. The islands are of coral reef types and rise only a few feet above sea level. The Marshall Islands comprise an area slightly larger than Washington, DC.

Micronesian peoples were the first inhabitants of the archipelago. The islands were explored by the Spanish in the 16th century and were named for a British captain in 1788. Germany unsuccessfully attempted to colonize the islands in 1885. Japan claimed them in 1914, but after several battles during World War II, the U.S. seized them from the Japanese. In 1947, the UN made the island group, along with the Mariana and Caroline archipelagos, a U.S. trust territory.

U.S. nuclear testing took place between 1946 and 1958 on the islands of Bikini and Eniwetok. The people of Bikini were removed to another island, and a total of 23 U.S. atomic and hydrogen bomb tests were conducted. Despite cleanup attempts, the islands remain uninhabited today because of nuclear contamination. The U.S. paid the islands $183.7 million in damages in 1983, and in 1999, the U.S. approved a one-time $3.8-million payment to the relocated people of Bikini atoll.

Kwajalein atoll is the site of an American military base and has been used for missile defense testing since the 1960s.

The United States and the Marshall Islands signed a Compact of Free Association in 1986, which meant the islands became self-governing but would receive U.S. military and economic aid, roughly $65 million a year. The Marshall Islands were admitted to the UN on Sept. 17, 1991.

In 2000, Kessai Note became the first commoner to become president—his predecessors had been island chiefs. He ran on an anticorruption ticket and is attempting to make his small nation more self-sufficient. In 2003, the U.S. and the Marshall Islands agreed on a new Compact of Free Association, an extension of the lease to use the Kwajalein military base in exchange for economic aid. In Jan. 2004, Parliament reelected President Note.