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Northern Mariana Islands   Northern Mariana Islands Profile

Territory Profile and Energy Estimates

Profile AnalysisPrint Territory Energy Profile
(overview, data, & analysis)



Last Updated: September 21, 2017

Overview

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is a chain of 14 islands and a handful of islets in the Pacific Ocean, located three-fourths of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines. The CNMI has no conventional energy resources and meets nearly all of its energy needs with petroleum shipped in by tanker.1 To rely less on fuel imports, the CNMI is developing more of its wind and solar resources.

The Northern Mariana Islands import petroleum to meet nearly all of their energy needs.

The islands of the commonwealth are the tops of a subsea mountain range whose eastern boundary is the Mariana Trench, which, at nearly 7 miles below the ocean's surface, is the deepest known place on earth. The islands stretch northward in an arc from Guam toward Japan.2 The Northern Marianas have a tropical marine climate with little seasonal temperature variation, a dry season from December to June, and a rainy season from July to November. Typhoons can occur in the rainy season.3,4,5 The islands are typically thickly forested and have groundwater supplies.6 Coral reefs edge some of their shorelines, and two islands have active volcanoes. The territory has a total area of 179 square miles, about two-and-a-half times the size of Washington, DC.7,8

Virtually all the territory's population and economic activity is based on three islands at the southern end of the island chain: Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.9 About 9 in 10 residents live on Saipan, the largest island. The population totaled about 53,500 in 2016,10 but it has been declining.11,12,13,14 The falling population is the result of a shift in the CNMI's economy, as garment factories, once the largest industry, have closed and as foreign contract workers have left.15,16 The territorial government is now the largest contributor to the gross domestic product (GPD). Tourism, led by vacationers from Japan, is the largest private- sector industry, accounting for about one-fourth of the territory's GDP. Other industries include cattle ranching and small farming.17,18,19 The U.S. military's plans to expand bases on neighboring Guam may include using portions of Tinian and Pagan islands for military maneuvers.20

Petroleum

The CNMI has no proved crude oil reserves21 neither produces22 nor refines petroleum.23 Petroleum products are the top import for the CNMI, accounting for about 20% of annual imports. They are brought in by ship through harbors on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.24,25 The three islands' primary uses of the petroleum imports are diesel fuel for electricity generation and diesel fuel and motor gasoline for transportation.26 U.S. law allows use of less expensive, high-sulfur motor gasoline in the Pacific territories.27 Other petroleum imports include liquefied petroleum gas, used mainly by businesses and households for cooking and heating water.28,29 The Commonwealth Utilities Corporation (CUC) was awarded $5 million from the U.S. Interior Department in early 2017 to repair storage tanks that hold petroleum for its power plants so the tanks could meet industry standards.30

Natural gas

The CNMI has no natural gas reserves31 and does not produce32 or consume natural gas.33

Coal

The CNMI has no coal reserves34 and does not produce35 or consume coal.36

Electricity

Many of the Northern Mariana Islands' electric generators are aging and cannot run at full capacity.

The CNMI's electric system is owned and operat¬ed by CUC, a public corporation of the CNMI government.37 CUC is regulated by the Commonwealth Public Utilities Commission.38 The CNMI has three small electric grids, one on each of the populated islands. Electricity is generated by five diesel-fueled power plants: three on Saipan and one each on Tinian and Rota. Generating capacity is about 70 megawatts on Saipan, 20 megawatts on Tinian, and 4.5 megawatts on Rota.39,40,41 However, the generators are aging and cannot run at full capacity. On Saipan, only about 57 megawatts were available42 before August 2015, when Saipan's power generation and distribution system was badly damaged by Typhoon Soudelor,43 leading to several months of power outages and disruptions of the public water supply and wastewater treatment systems.44,45,46,47

On Saipan, the commercial sector, including tourist facilities, uses more than one-third of all power and is the largest electricity-consuming sector. Hotels use electricity mainly for air conditioning, water heating, and water purification. The residential sector is the second-largest consuming sector, using about one-fourth of all power.48 CUC also operates street lighting, drinking water, and wastewater disposal systems,49 which together consume about one-twelfth of the electricity generated on Saipan.50 On Tinian, the federal government's International Broadcasting Bureau relay station is the largest electricity customer. Tinian's resort hotels are also major users of electricity.51

The commercial sector, led by tourism, is the largest electricity-consuming sector in the Northern Mariana Islands.

Electricity customers pay a fuel surcharge that varies with the world price of diesel fuel, which, in recent years, has brought the price of electricity to between three and four times the average price in the 50 U.S. states.52,53 Most large hotels have generators and make electricity for their own use when grid supply is unreliable or fuel surcharges are high.54 response to lower petroleum prices, the CUC's fuel surcharge dropped from 30 cents per kilowatthour in April 2014 to about 15 cents in mid-2017.55 Given the historic volatility of petroleum prices, CUC has sought both conventional and renewable alternative electricity sources to diversify its diesel-dependent system,56 but the cost of new alternative generation is a hurdle.57 The utility has been working on an integrated resource plan (IRP) to help evaluate its options,58,59 particularly in light of new tourist facilities proposed for development on the islands.60

Renewable energy

The CNMI government enacted a renewable portfolio standard in 2006 that required CUC to obtain 10% of its electricity from renewable energy sources in 2008, rising to 80% in 2014. The standard was later amended to require 20% renewable electricity by 2016.61,62 Compliance is required, however, only if there is a cost-effective way to meet the standard, and progress toward the standard has been limited.63,64 CUC has solicited private sector project proposals for renewable energy technologies, most recently as part of its IRP effort, but no large-scale facilities have yet been built.65,66,67,68,69

Solar panels and small wind turbines provide power for schools and government buildings across the CNMI.

Saipan, Tinian, and Rota are believed to have prevailing wind resources suitable for commercial turbines, but potential sites are limited because the islands are mountainous, land is scarce, and turbines may interfere with airstrip and military facilities. There are also concerns about turbine impacts on several threatened bird species.70,71 Finally, turbines must be designed to withstand typhoons.72

Solar energy resources are believed to be suitable for both solar hot water heating and for electricity generation by photovoltaic (PV) panels.73 CNMI law allows for net metering,74 and some rooftop solar PV projects are connected to the grid.75 Projects with combinations of solar panels and small wind turbines have been installed at schools and at other government buildings across the three islands to provide both power to the buildings and opportunities for students to learn about renewable energy.76,77 The projects include solar panels with a combined generating capacity of 74.5 kilowatts and wind turbines with a total capacity of 144 kilowatts.78 CUC has also installed high-efficiency bulbs in its street-lighting system.79 Because of the small size of the three islands' grids, variable wind and solar projects must be integrated carefully, possibly by combining advanced energy storage with renewable facilities.80

Geothermal technologies also offer energy potential, as the islands are part of known undersea volcanic formations. Several of the uninhabited northern islands have recently active volcanoes.81,82 Other renewable technologies that have been considered for the Northern Mariana Islands include conversion of non-recyclable municipal wastes to energy.83 The U.S. Department of the Interior awarded a grant in July 2017 to the CNMI government to conduct a feasibility study on extracting methane gas from landfills, which would help reduce reliance on fuel imports.84

Endnotes

1 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 5.
2 Ballendorf, Dirk Anthony, Northern Mariana Islands, Encyclopedia Britannica, updated May 24, 2016.
3 Pacific RISA, Northern Mariana Islands, Climate, accessed August 25, 2017.
4 U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, Northern Mariana Islands, Geography, updated August 1, 2017.
5 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 3.
6 Carruth, Robert L., Ground-Water Resources of Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, U.S. Geological Survey, Water-Resources Investigation Report 03-4178 (Honolulu, 2003).
7 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 2.
8 U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, Northern Mariana Islands, Geography, updated August 1, 2017.
9 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 3.
10 U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, Northern Mariana Islands, People and Society, updated August 1, 2017.
11 U.S. Census Bureau, "U.S. Census Bureau Releases 2010 Census Population Counts for the Northern Mariana Islands," Press Release (August 24, 2011).
12 U.S. Department of Commerce, Northern Mariana Islands: 2010 Census Summary Report, Saipan villages, accessed August 25, 2017.
13 U.S. Department of Commerce, Northern Mariana Islands: 2010 Census Summary Report, Tinian and Northern Island villages, accessed August 25, 2017.
14 U.S. Department of Commerce, Northern Mariana Islands: 2010 Census Summary Report, Rota villages, accessed August 25, 2017.
15 U.S. General Accounting Office, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands: Employment, Earnings, and Status of Key Industries Since Minimum Wage Increases Began, GAO-11-427 (June 23, 2011).
16 U.S. Census Bureau, "Economic Census Shows Northern Mariana Islands' Economy Generated $1.3 Billion in Sales in 2012," Press Release (April 29, 2014).
17 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 4.
18 U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, "The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) Releases Estimates of Gross Domestic Product, Gross Domestic Product by Industry, Compensation by Industry, and Detailed Consumer Spending for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands," Press Release (September 17, 2012).
19 U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, Northern Mariana Islands, Economy, updated August 1, 2017.
20 Ashton, Adam, "Quietly, Guam Is Slated to Become Massive New U.S. Military Base," McClatchy DC (November 22, 2015).
21 U.S. EIA, International Energy Statistics, Crude Oil, Proved Reserves, Northern Mariana Islands, 2016.
22 U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), International Energy Statistics, Petroleum, Production, U.S. Pacific Islands, 2016..
23 U.S. EIA, Refinery Capacity Report 2017, Table 3, Capacity of Operable Petroleum Refineries by State and Individual Refinery as of January 1, 2017.
24 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Observatory of Economic Complexity, Northern Mariana Islands, accessed on August 28, 2017.
25 U.S.EIA, Northern Mariana Islands, Profile Data, Distribution & Marketing, Oil Seaports/Oil Import Sites, accessed August 25, 2017.
26 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 6, 21.
27 U.S. Government Printing Office, Title 40, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 80 (July 1, 2011), Section 80-382.
28 "Shortage of LP Gas, Cement on Tinian," Saipan Tribune (March 22, 2012).
29 Bagnol, Raquel C., "Saipan International Gas Says LPG Prices to Rise," Marianas Variety (July 8, 2008).
30 "Saipan to Receive $5 million for Power Plant and Fuel Storage," Marianas Business Journal (March 6, 2017).
31 U.S. EIA, International Energy Statistics, Natural Gas, Proved Reserves, Northern Mariana Islands, 2014.
32 U.S. EIA, International Energy Statistics, Natural Gas, Production, Northern Mariana Islands, 2014.
33 U.S. EIA, International Energy Statistics, Natural Gas, Consumption, Northern Mariana Islands, 2014..
34 U.S. EIA, International Energy Statistics, Coal, Recoverable Reserves, 2014.
35 U.S. EIA, International Energy Statistics, Coal, Production, Northern Mariana Islands, 2014.
36 U.S. EIA, International Energy Statistics, Coal, Consumption, Northern Mariana Islands, 2014.
37 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 5.
38 National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Energy Transition Initiative, Islands, Energy Snapshot, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, DOE/GO-102015-4683 (June 2015), p. 1.
39 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 5, 61-63.
40 U.S.EIA, Northern Mariana Islands, Profile Data, Reserves & Supply, Production Facilities, Major Non-Nuclear Electricity Generating Plants, accessed August, 23, 2017.
41 Commonwealth Utilities Corp., About Us, accessed August 23, 2017.
42 Chan, Dennis B., "CUC Power Supply ‘Only Good to 2017,'" Saipan Tribune (March 16, 2016).
43 "Typhoon Soudelor Becomes World's Most Powerful Storm This Year After It Trashes Northern Marianas," ABC News (August 4, 2015).
44 Logue, Josh, "Off the Radar, Complete Devastation," Inside Higher Ed (September 14, 2016).
45 Chan, Dennis B., "CUC: 2 to 3 Months for Power," Saipan Tribune (August 31, 2015).
46 "Parts of Saipan Still Without Power 2 Months After Storm," Radio New Zealand (October 6, 2015).
47 "Interior Provides $584,000 to Assist NMI Typhoon Recovery Effort," Marianas Variety (October 2, 2015).
48 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 7, 12.
49 Commonwealth Utilities Corp., About Us, accessed August 23, 2017.
50 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 7, 10.
51 Chan, Dennis B. "CUC Power Supply ‘Only Good to 2017,'" Saipan Tribune (March 16, 2016).
52 Sanchez, Simon, "Community Challenges Facing Utilities," Guam Consolidated Commission on Utilities, presentation to Guam Chamber of Commerce, General Membership Meeting (October 2013), slide 10.
53 U.S.EIA, Electric Power Monthly (issues of February 2017, 2016, 2015), Table 5.6.B.
54 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 6, 10, 12.
55 "CUC Fuel Adjustment Charge Remains the Same in August," Saipan Tribune (August 1, 2017).
56 Commonwealth Utilities Corp., Power Supply RFP, updated September 4, 2015.
57 Villanueva-Dizon, Frauleine, "Biz Community Discuss Rates, Infrastructure Issues with CUC," Saipan Tribune (March 4, 2016).
58 Villanueva-Dizon, Frauleine, "CUC Reviewing Results from Leidos," Saipan Tribune (January 12, 2016).
59 Todiño, Junhan B., "CUC Board Looks Into Renewable Energy Proposals," Marianas Variety (March 7, 2016).
60 Chan, Dennis B., "CUC Power Supply ‘Only Good to 2017,'" Saipan Tribune (March 16, 2016).
61 National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Energy Transition Initiative, Islands, Energy Snapshot, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, DOE/GO-102015-4683 (June 2015), p. 2.
62 CNMI Governor's memo, Enactment of Public Law No. 18-62, September 4, 2014.
63 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 15, 16.
64 National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Energy Transition Initiative, Islands, Energy Snapshot, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, DOE/GO-102015-4683 (June 2015), p. 1.
65 Todiño, Junhan B., "CUC Gets over $60M in Grants," Marianas Variety (June 8, 2017).
66 Deposa, Moneth, "$40M Solar Energy PPA Now Underway," Saipan Tribune (June 23, 2014).
67 Commonwealth Utilities Corp., "CUC Seeking Proposals for Power Supply Resources," Press Release (November 18, 2014).
68 Commonwealth Utilities Corp., Power Supply RFP, updated September 4, 2015.
69 Todiño, Junhan B., "CUC Board Looks Into Renewable Energy Proposals," Marianas Variety (March 7, 2016).
70 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 27, 28.
71 U.S. Department of Energy, Office of NEPA Policy and Compliance, EA-1923, Final Environmental Assessment, Green Energy School Wind Turbine Project on Saipan (January 2013) p. 14, 21.
72 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 36, 37.
73 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 41.
74 National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Energy Transition Initiative, Islands, Energy Snapshot, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, DOE/GO-102015-4683 (June 2015), p. 1.
75 National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Energy Transition Initiative, Islands, Energy Snapshot, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, DOE/GO-102015-4683 (June 2015), p. 1.
76 National Association of State Energy Officials, Northern Mariana Islands, Energy Division, accessed August 25, 2017.
77 "Kilil: $658,692 for Marianas Energy Projects," Saipan Tribune (June 30, 2017).
78 National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Energy Transition Initiative, Islands, Energy Snapshot, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, DOE/GO-102015-4683 (June 2015), p. 3.
79 "Interior Provides $3M in Energy Grants to U.S. Territories," Saipan Tribune (May 20, 2016).
80 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 43.
81 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 43-46, p. 65-72.
82 Bagnol, Raquel C., "Official: Pagan, Saipan Have Geothermal Energy Potential," Marianas Variety (August 4, 2011).
83 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 47-50.
84 "$3.5M Energy Grants for Territories," Saipan Tribune (July 5, 2017).