June 17, 2013

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

June 13, 2013 Pohnpei, FSM -They're calling it the "Beautification and Safety" program and they've hired nearly 50 new employees to carry it out. In case you have not been outside for the last few months you may have noticed that Pohnpei Utilities Corporation is carrying out an aggressive line clearing project and have been clearing trees to get them away from the power lines.

PUC General Manager Marcelino Actouka said that the problem has been ignored for far too long. He said that the utility did a study and discovered that it was costing them $250,000 more per month, to generate power than it needed to because of power lost to trees and other vegetation. Island wide, they have to go.

On the safety side of things, Actouka said that trees growing into the lines can be a severe safety hazard for anyone who may climb those trees.

On the beautification side we pointed out that some places in Pohnpei were beginning to look a lot like Guam. "Well, if you want power it has to be this way." Actouka said.

Another PUC spokesperson said that crews began the clearing project at the power plant in Nanpohnmal. Part of the crew went down the back road into Sekere and the other half headed toward Kolonia. They will be continuing around the island.

When asked why some trees have been cleared that didn't seem to need to be cleared Actouka said that some land owners asked for the favor.

"Through collaboration between Pohnpei State Government and PUC, we are now negotiating with the FSM Petroleum Corporation and EIG, on an independent power producer and power purchase agreement to execute a $5 million investment for a 10MW emergency for power recovery plan," Lt. Governor Peterson said during his speech at last Friday's turn-over ceremony of the new water project. "This will allow time for proper design and financing of a permanent power plan with diesel and renewable energy of $20-25 million investment for up to 15MW of new efficient and low tariff power system."

Actouka said that he's not ready to talk about that just yet other than to say that PUC's new board rejected all of the bids previously submitted and then asked FSM Petroleum Corporation and EIG to collaborate on an emergency power recovery plan.

Jared Morris, CEO of Vital, the FSM Petroleum Corporation said that he is not aware any agreements that have been made. He said that Balance Solutions, another of the bidders on PUC's previous request for proposals is working with Vital on other alternative energy products.

PUC's handling of the bids that came in after it issued its RFP for power provision was the subject of controversy and court action.

Morris said that Vital has no problem working with anyone. "PUC usually has to go to bids for this sort of thing." The only way he could see it working is if the Executive and Legislative branches, along with PUC all agree. "Certain checks need to be in place," he said.

Actouka would only say that he will be meeting with the principals on the potential power recovery plan and would be willing to talk about the details after any agreements have been reached.