GPA hopes to bring entire island’s power grid underground in 30 years

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Guam – Imagine an island where your power stays on even during a typhoon. Hard to imagine, right? Well that could be a reality for Guam, maybe not anytime soon, but certainly for future generations.

Believe it or not, there are already areas in Guam that are partially underground. Areas on island that are quick to come back online are likely those areas, like Tamuning, parts of Dededo and Harmon and just recently Agat.

“In Typhoon Pongsona, after that we received $28 million from FEMA. Wo what did we underground? We underground Harmon right across the Micronesia Mall. We put an underground line all the way, transmission line up to the airport to Macheche, down to Tumon to Tamuning,” explains Guam Power Authority General Manager John Benavente who says GPA’s ultimate goal is to get the power lines in the entire island underground.

How does it work? Benavente explains the main transmission line connected to GPA’s power plant is placed underground and routed to certain villages. If the power goes out or is shut off, GPA can simply work on getting that main transmission line back on.

“So the first phases, the critical phases, are the transmission because they bring power from the power plant to an area and then from an area like Tamuning, you can distribute power, but if you don’t get this immediately down there, [you’ll have to do it one by one],” notes Benavente. That kind of system, which is referred to as a hybrid system, helps bring the lights back on to critical areas, like hospitals and tourist districts, much faster.

One village reaping the benefits of a hybrid power system is Agat. Last year GPA placed a transmission line underground to provide power to 500 homes. Lighting up the village in a shorter amount of time following a widespread outage proved to be successful during recent typhoon recovery efforts.

“So before it would take us another–I’m just guessing–but it’ll take some time to fix it so the 500 homes are secondary because they either get ripped off by trees or loosen so you have low voltages, things like that,” says Benavente. “We still have the concrete poles coming in but instead of a transformer hanging on a pole, the transformer is underground and everything is underground to the homes. Wo what happens now is we just come in a fix the lines here and everybody comes back.”

The next underground project for GPA is Tumon which they will bring completely underground.

“The main line in Tumon Bay is underground but the laterals, behind Duty Free, down toward the Lotte Hotel, Nikko, that area, Fiesta, so we’re putting that underground,” assures Benavente.

“So I anticipate that if we just do a little bit at a time within the next 30 years or so then our children’s generations will start to see the island really not impacted so much by typhoons,” Benavente says.

But a 210 square mile island underground will surely cost money. Funding this massive project will take some creativity, says Benavente, and will likely involve a mix of loans, bond borrowing and federal aid.

“Now as we look ahead we’ll see how we fund it. Do we borrow some money without having to raise rates?” says Benavente. “What we try to do is make sure as we pay off some debt, then probably we can borrow because we sustain this type of debt and why? Because we’re a perpetual company.”