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U.S. Department of the Interior - Office of Insular Affairs
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Keynote Address of the Honorable Anthony M. Babauta Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior - Insular Areas 20th Annual Pacific Power Association Conference Tumon, Guam



July 25, 2011

Hafa Adai yan minanas si Yu'us todos hamyu; good morning to all of you.  I am very pleased to be here with all of you this morning as you celebrate 20 years of power and this year's most crucial and ever-timely theme of "sustainability" throughout our beautiful Pacific Islands. I am particularly pleased to be here on this special occasion because it afforded me the opportunity to return to my home island of Guam and to know that the spirit and hospitality of the Chamorro spirit will be shared with all of you during your visit.  There is a growing sense of pride and local small business ownership on Guam and so I encourage you – as I do myself – to support locally owned small businesses here on-island during your stay.  And just to be clear, even though he makes a mean sausage mcmuffin – I don't think anyone in this room considers McDonalds a locally owned small business.

Before going any further, I would like to extend a special thank you to the Guam Power Authority, our host today, Governor Eddie Calvo and most importantly, the folks coordinating this year's event, Chairman Apii Timoti, Executive Director Andrew Daka and distinguished PPA active and allied members --- Si Yu'us ma'åse' for the opportunity to share and learn with you today.

Over the last decade, I have had the good fortune and distinct opportunity to have met and worked with many in this room. Within these years, perhaps the largest endeavor taken on by the Pacific Power Association as a direct result of legislation I had worked on during my time on Capitol Hill was the updating of the Territorial Energy Assessment Report.  If you recall, prior to Congress passing the Energy Security Act – the Territorial Energy Assessment – which spoke to the renewable energy opportunities and available technologies for US territories and freely associated states – was more than twenty years out of date.  I realize how difficult an undertaking it was to renew this assessment but the work of the PPA was a good foundation which has assisted our more recent efforts to design and employ a renewable energy strategy for islands here in the Pacific and the Carribbean.

Since my appointment by President Barack Obama back in 2009, as Assistant Secretary for the Department of the Interior, I have had the pleasure and responsibility of traveling throughout our various areas of island jurisdictions working and coordinating efforts that support President Obama's vision of  energy efficiency, developing renewable energy initiatives and strategies and most critically, ensuring our efforts and best practices are shared across the United States. Along the way, interacting with professionals such as yourselves and others, one cannot help but realize that many of us our simply students, continuously galvanized by your commitment and dedication, your leadership and initiative, and your cooperation and passion in securing energy security for ALL of our Pacific Islands.   

For those of you unfamiliar with the work the Department of the Interior as it relates to island jurisdiction, I would like to take this opportunity to provide a little background to contextualize how and why the Department of the Interior's Office of Insular Affairs (OIA), although not perfect by any means, has historically been involved and invested in the energy coordination throughout the Caribbean and the Pacific-- in this particular case, the territories of American Samoa,  Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands and the Freely Associated States of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau.

In 2009, following my confirmation, I assumed the somewhat daunting task of being the first-ever native Pacific Islander appointed by the President to serve as an Interior Assistant Secretary; and consequently the highest ranking native Pacific Islander in the Federal Government. It is a charge that does not rest on me lightly and one I take intently and seriously.  Having spent the last decade working for the U.S. House of Representatives, familiar with the issues and challenges faced daily by our insular communities, I understood well the work that lay ahead and the information I would need to begin moving our issues forward. I assembled members of my staff, with indispensible, institutional knowledge on the projects the Department had funded in the past, the initiatives we had supported through our various technical assistance grants and received from them a sobering understanding of the challenges that would encumber, at least temporarily, our progress.

I sat down with the various Delegates to Congress, Governors, Presidents, Legislatures and Community leaders to begin coordinating efforts and prioritizing projects.  Among the multitude and varying issues confronted by our islands there was unanimous consensus that the amount of money being spent by our island communities, whether in the Pacific or in the Caribbean on imported oil was exorbitantly high and simply unsustainable in the long-term. It was a resounding red flag, among a field of many, which we understood quickly would have to be collectively addressed.

So, a little over a year and a half ago, in March, 2010, the Governors of American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam; along with many of their utility agency leaders, joined me at a two-day conference I convened at the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) in Golden, Colorado in an effort to cooperate at the Federal level in accomplishing our mutual renewable energy and efficiency goals and to initiate a comprehensive energy plan for each of our U.S. insular areas. Our understanding there was twofold: 1) That any effort we engaged in would be building on existing efforts and 2) Acceptance that the benefit of our efforts would not be immediate but strengthened and solidified by our shared vision for islands that were energy efficient and increasingly less dependent on imported oil going forward.  In a nutshell, we were coming together for many of the same reasons you gather here this week – to recognize we have a responsibility over the best use of resources for those currently residing on our islands but a greater stewardship role to ensure that we preserve these same resources for coming generations.  

So, we began developing a responsible blueprint for the kind of energy future we wanted to implement. Following this initial meeting, all three governors signed Executive Orders and in the case of the U.S. Virgin Islands a Memorandum of Understanding that formalized the terms of our partnership and subsequently established energy taskforces. Within the Executive Order, islands such as the Virgin Islands pledged to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels by as much as 60% by 2025--each island tailoring their energy goals to their respective community's needs.  The goals were as bold as they were necessary.

Over the course of the last year, we have been humbly taught that while the need and the opportunities for implementing renewable energy and energy efficiency across our island nations is vast, so are the technological, economic, political and cultural challenges to achieving renewable energy and energy efficiency .

I often state that we can all accordingly agree that solar, wind, and oceanic energy resources are abundantly available, but the technology, infrastructure and human capacity necessary to safely and reliably provide those energy resources en masse to individual households at an affordable price throughout the Pacific Islands and other small and isolated states is a complex endeavor to say the least.

You know this best; and as each island moves forward with a strategic plan to increase efficiency and employ renewable and alternative methods to power homes and businesses; utilities which you represent could be fairly or unfairly criticized of being in the way.  Nationally, many have heard the call to "drill-baby-drill" and I understand how that mantra has molded a utilitie's way of life to "burn-baby-burn."  So, it is heartnening to know that you come together to speak about the preservation of resources and the concepts of sustainability.

Moving in a direction away from "burn-baby-burn" is difficult, but it recognizes many global minds and experts who strongly believe that the way forward needs to include other methods of meeting our planet's growing demand.

In 2010, the International Energy Agency's Chief Economist, Dr. Fatih Birol, said that even if demand for oil over the next twenty years was to remain flat, the world would need to find four new Saudi Arabias to compensate for the production decline of existing oil fields.  Named by Forbes Magazine as one of the world's most powerful voices on energy, Dr. Birol has gone on to say that "One day we will run out of oil, it is not today or tomorrow, but one day we will run out of oil and we have to leave oil before oil leaves us, and we have to prepare ourselves for that day.  The earlier we start, the better, because all of our economic and social system is based on oil, so to change from that will take a lot of time and a lot of money and we should take this issue very seriously," he said.

I believe that our islands' have taken all the warnings seriously and following each respective Governors' creation of the renewable and alternative energy taskforces, we developed a partnership with each of their islands, the Interior Deparmtment, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to conduct energy assessments in each of the three U.S. Pacific territories. The assessments for Guam and the Northern Marianas are completed and their task forces continue the necessary steps to develop a comprehensive energy strategy for their communities; and we look forward to the assessment being completed for American Samoa shortly.  Just last week, I signed a grant for the Northern Marianas to move forward in exploring their geothermal potential – a direct result of NREL's assessment.

In addition, I believe we have made some very wise investments to move in the right direction.  In the past year, we helped establish two distinct efforts by helping to fund the Center for Island Sustainability for Guam and also the Micronesian Center for a Sustainable Future.  Both of these entities are being housed at the University of Guam and receive not only funding from my office but from other agencies within the Federal Government, the business community, and international organizations.  I have great faith that within the University of Guam, and under the guidance of its President Robert Underwood and the Chief Executives from the U.S. Insular Areas and the Freely Associated States, the Center for Island Sustainability and the Micronesian Center for a Sustainable Future will assist the island communities of Guam, the Northern Marianas, Palau, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and American Samoa meet challenges and provide smart ideas to tackle very difficult developmental problems.

The Department's Office of Insular Affairs has also invested approximately $4.7M, over the past four years, to support the Pacific Lineman Training Program and the efforts of the Pacific Power Association to develop a cadre of knowledgeable, professional linemen that provide their communities with safe and efficient electricity transmission. OIA's Capital Improvement Program (CIP) funding has also supported numerous power projects in the four U.S. territories.

Many of you will recall or participated in last year's "Keeping the Lights On" Utility Survival in the Freely Associated States, workshop at the East West Center in Honolulu.  The goal there was to develop cooperative strategies and solutions to the problems that threaten viability of island utilities.  In Honolulu we began addressing methods for improving operational efficiency, coping with fuel prices, increasing revenue generation, cost recovery, and the use of renewable energy sources.  We are all hopeful that those meetings have created new partnerships, ideas, and leverage points to assist FAS utilities.

And back in May 2010, OIA hosted two consecutive days of meetings for teams from the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (VIWAPA) and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to meet and consider the viability of an underwater connection between the power grids in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  The meetings also focused on the effect such a connection might have on the Caribbean region as a whole, the Insular Areas as well as other federal stakeholders.

And finally, several years ago the VI was selected to participate as part of a pilot project under the Department of Energy's Energy Development in Island Nations (EDIN) initiative. Many of you are familiar with EDIN as an international partnership among the United States, Iceland, and New Zealand where the principals have agreed to support island nations in the deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The Virgin Islands EDIN initiative has also brought significant technical resources and support from NREL which has led to the contracting of energy service companies that will lead GVI efforts to increase the energy efficiency of government buildings and commercial and light industrial enterprises.  The initiative has also successfully assisted the Virgin Islands Port Authority with deploying at least 300kw of solar pv to supply the Cyril E. King Airport from an American Reinvestment and Recovery Act grant it received.

Together we have accomplished a tremendous amount of work over the last year. The initiatives that have been undertaken throughout the islands speak to the prescience of your community leaders, folks like you all who understand from a pragmatic vantage that you remain a critical component of the puzzle, that as we move forward with sensible energy initiatives, efficiency is what will propel us.     It is because of organizations such as the PPA that we are breaking down obstacles and preparing the foundation and infrastructure for greater energy security for our islands.

My office is located at 1849 C Street in Washington DC and just about two blocks away is the Corcoran Gallery of Art. For those of you familiar with Washington you can often live there for years and because it is so easy to get caught in the day to day hustle and bustle of the beltway, you forget that some of the nation's most phenomenal museums are right there at your disposal and for free. Two years ago, the Corcoran Gallery hosted a traveling exhibition by renowned Canadian Contemporary Photographer Edward Burtynsky that surveys over a decade of his work on the subject that remains as one of the most important subjects of our time- Oil.

This was an exhibit that was brilliantly pieced together as you will see here, in three parts 1) The first being images of oil extraction and refinement, photographs depicting the oil's physical extraction from our earth and how it is further processed for our use; 2) We then have images of how oil has been used throughout the years, images of vast urbanization, highways, development, cities, cars and how all of this growth has impacted our lives to the point of dependence; 3) And it finally culminates with scenes of the destruction of oil, striking images of defunct oil fields, recycling yards, landfills and the stunning images of broken down oil tankers.

For those unfamiliar with his work, Burtynsky made a name for himself generating large-format photographs of industrial landscapes. In an interview he once stated that he was propelled into photo journalism by an innate desire to demonstrate to the world, how we use our land. And it was through the counting of this story that he learned rather quickly what influenced and as he states what was "underpinning" much of "how" we used land. Oil as Burtynsky argues is "underpinning the scale and speed of how we use land, because that is what has changed, is the speed at which we're taking all our resources."

Burtynsky like many others who are sounding the alarm are calling for folks to recognize what we all accept here, that the status quo is untenable and simply as a matter of fact that despite attempts to argue the contrary, peak oil is imminent and real; and a sustainable development plan is needed.

While these images depict a rather bleak future when I view this exhibit I can't help but feel overwhelmingly unnerved but altogether hopeful and confident that it's much like an apocalypse that only human ingenuity and resilience will be able to circumvent.

Because of this, this year's theme is so adroitly relevant as it speaks to the kind of people we are—Pacific Islanders who are adept, resilient and just as our Pacific Ocean is infinite so are the solutions we will offer up as a people that wish to preserve our islands for the generations that will follow. You see, the alarm is sounding, our pockets are certainly not getting any bigger, in fact they are shrinking and the geo-political tensions throughout the world persist. But today and throughout the year sustainability and the future of our islands is manifested through our day to day efforts to mitigate and proactively solve our most pressing crises.

Our islands, through the limited and insufficient funding provided by OIA and other international organizations across the globe, are nonetheless engaged in initiatives that will result in the refurbishing of broken generators, energy efficiency efforts that minimize the use of fuel while increasing distribution, the installation of prepaid meters that incentivize consumers to use less energy while simultaneously generating a needed cash-flow for our struggling utilities corporations.

Efforts to mitigate our oil crisis necessitate a coordinated response across all sectors-- it takes the government, the individual consumers, and the utilities to work together toward that end. Investing in energy efficiencies results in short-term benefits, a lower energy bill for the individual, while impacting our longer-term future opportunities that allow us to more flexibly focus and target on other priorities. The high cost of energy is burdensome while our near-total reliance on imported fuel renders us vulnerable. Our way forward requires us to have those difficult conversations, take those bold but necessary actions to make this our reality. We must have a united mindset for implementing practical skills for sustainability and I congratulate all of you for coming together at this year's PPA Conference to deliberate, discuss, and find sustainable solutions for the future of our islands.

Thank you again for the opportunity.