Northern Mariana Islands Territory Energy Profile



Northern Mariana Islands Quick Facts

  • The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) meets nearly all of its energy needs with imported petroleum products, including diesel fuel used for both electricity generation and transportation. Refined petroleum accounted for 21% of CNMI's import costs in 2018.
  • Electricity customers in CNMI pay a fuel surcharge that varies with the price of diesel fuel. In August 2020, CNMI's fuel surcharge was 37% less than a year earlier because of a decline in world petroleum demand and prices, due, in part, to the global coronavirus pandemic.
  • In 2017, GDP per capita in CNMI was less than half that of the United States, but CNMI had one of the fastest growing economies in the world that year, primarily because of increased tourism and new casinos.
  • CNMI had no solar energy capacity in 2010, but by 2020, it had 2 megawatts with plans to add two new solar power plants with a combined capacity of 5 megawatts.
  • CNMI's electric utility generates electricity at five diesel-fueled power plants--three on Saipan and one each on Tinian and Rota--and the territory’s entire population has access to electricity.

Last Updated: December 17, 2020



Data

Last Update: October 21, 2021 | Next Update: November 18, 2021

+ EXPAND ALL
Economy  
Population and Industry Northern Mariana Islands United States Period
Population 0.1 million 328.2 million 2019  
Gross Domestic Product $ 1 billion $ 19,552 billion 2018  
Prices  
Electricity Northern Mariana Islands United States Period
Residential NA 13.90 cents/kWh Jul-21  
Commercial NA 11.57 cents/kWh Jul-21  
Industrial NA 7.53 cents/kWh Jul-21  
Reserves  
Reserves Northern Mariana Islands United States Period
Crude Oil -- 42 billion barrels 2019  
Natural Gas NA 465 trillion cu ft 2020  
Recoverable Coal NA 252,057 million short tons 2019  
Capacity Northern Mariana Islands United States Period
Total Electricity Installed Capacity NA 1,114 million kW 2018  
Imports & Exports  
Total Imports Northern Mariana Islands United States Period
Crude Oil Imports -- 7,850 thousand barrels/day 2016  
Natural Gas Imports 0 billion cu ft 2,551 billion cu ft 2020  
Coal Imports -- 6,697 thousand short tons 2019  
Total Exports Northern Mariana Islands United States Period
Crude Oil Exports -- 591 thousand barrels/day 2016  
Natural Gas Exports 0 billion cu ft 5,284 billion cu ft 2020  
Coal Exports -- 93,765 thousand short tons 2019  
Supply  
Production Northern Mariana Islands United States Period
Total Energy 0 trillion Btu 96 trillion Btu 2018  
Crude Oil, NGPL, and Other Liquids -- 17,936 thousand barrels/day 2020  
Natural Gas - Gross NA 32,915 billion cu ft 2015  
Coal -- 706,307 thousand short tons 2019  
Total Utility-Scale Net Electricity Generation Northern Mariana Islands United States Period
Total Net Electricity Generation NA 4,208 billion kWh 2018  
Petroleum, Natural Gas, and Coal Net Electricity Generation NA 2,657 billion kWh 2018  
Total Electricity Generation from Renewable Sources -- 749 billion kWh 2018  
    »  Hydroelectric NA 293 billion kWh 2018  
    »  Other Renewables -- 457 billion kWh 2018  
Consumption  
by Source Northern Mariana Islands United States Period
Total Energy 0 trillion Btu 101 trillion Btu 2018  
Total Petroleum Products -- 19,958 thousand barrels/day 2017  
    »  Motor Gasoline -- 9,327 thousand barrels/day 2017  
    »  Distillate Fuel -- 3,932 thousand barrels/day 2017  
    »  Liquefied Refinery Gases -- 1,299 thousand barrels/day 2017  
    »  Jet Fuel -- 1,682 thousand barrels/day 2017  
    »  Kerosene -- 5 thousand barrels/day 2017  
    »  Residual Fuel -- 342 thousand barrels/day 2017  
    »  Other Petroleum Products -- 3,371 thousand barrels/day 2017  
Natural Gas 0 billion cu ft 30,482 billion cu ft 2020  
Coal -- 588,415 thousand short tons 2019  
Carbon Dioxide Emissions  
by Source Northern Mariana Islands United States Period
Total Fossil Fuels 0 million metric tons 5,284 million metric tons 2018  
Petroleum -- 2,385 million metric tons 2018  
Natural Gas 0 million metric tons 1,686 million metric tons 2019  
Coal 0 million metric tons 1,076 million metric tons 2019  

Analysis



Last Updated: December 17, 2020

Overview

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a chain of 14 islands and a handful of islets in the western Pacific Ocean, is located almost 4,000 miles west of Hawaii and about 1,600 miles east of the Philippines.1,2,3 It is the newest U.S. territory and was established by covenant agreement in 1978.4 CNMI includes all the islands in the Mariana Islands Archipelago except Guam, the southernmost island of the chain.5 The islands of the Commonwealth stretch northward in an arc from Guam toward Japan. The northern islands are the tops of volcanic mountains, some of which are active, and the southern islands and islets are uplifted coral reefs on top of volcanic rock. The island chain rises from the ocean floor at the western boundary of the Mariana Trench, which reaches depths of more than 35,000 feet below the sea's surface and is the deepest known place on earth.6,7 The Commonwealth has no fossil fuel energy resources but does have some renewable resources. However, CNMI meets nearly all of its energy needs with imported petroleum products.8

In 2016 and 2017, CNMI had one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

The Northern Mariana Islands are about 179 square miles in area, which is collectively about two-and-a-half times the size of Washington, DC. About two-thirds of the territory's land is forested and nearly 7% is used for agriculture, primarily cattle ranches and small farms. Food is also imported.9 CNMI has a tropical marine climate with little seasonal temperature variation. There is a dry season from December to June, and a rainy season from July to November. Typhoons generally occur between May and December and can be devastating.10,11 In October 2018, Super Typhoon Yutu, a category 5 typhoon with sustained winds of 180 miles per hour, extensively damaged the CNMI islands of Saipan and Tinian.12

Virtually all of CNMI's population and economic activity is based on three of its islands—Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. All three are located at the southern end of the island chain.13 About 9 in 10 of the territory's residents live on the 46 square miles of Saipan, the largest island in CNMI.14 The territory's total population declined from more than 69,000 in 2000 to approximately 55,000 in 2020.15,16 The population drop occurred when several garment factories, once the territory's largest industry, closed, and foreign contract workers left.17,18 As a result CNMI has a small industrial sector, and about 9 of every 10 workers are employed in the service economy, including government.19 As manufacturing decreased, the accommodations and amusement industries increased. Tourism, led by vacationers from Asia, and casinos now contribute a significant share of the territory's gross domestic product (GDP).20 In 2016 and 2017, the Commonwealth had one of the fastest growing economies in the world. In 2016, the CNMI GDP increased by more than 28%.21 In 2017, CNMI's per capita GDP peaked at almost half that of the 50 states. The CNMI GDP per capita declined in 2018 but was still slightly more than one-third of the 50-state per capita GDP.22

Petroleum

Petroleum products are one of CNMI's top imports, and accounted for 21% of the cost of the Commonwealth's total imports in 2018.23 The Northern Mariana Islands have no proved crude oil reserves or production, and have never refined petroleum.24,25 Refined petroleum products are brought in by ship through harbors on Saipan and Tinian.26 CNMI imports a variety of refined petroleum products, including diesel fuel for electricity generation as well as diesel fuel and motor gasoline for marine and land transportation.27 U.S. law allows use of less expensive, high-sulfur motor gasoline in the Pacific territories.28 Other petroleum imports include jet fuel and aviation gas that are used at CNMI's two international airports—one on Saipan and one on Rota—and butane and propane that are used for cooking by businesses and households.29,30

Electricity

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

Electric power in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is provided by the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation (CUC), a government corporation that also provides drinking water and wastewater services on the populated islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.31 The utility is regulated by the Commonwealth Public Utilities Commission.32 Each of the populated islands has a small electric grid. Electricity in the territory is generated by five diesel-fueled power plants. Three are operational on Saipan and one each on Tinian and Rota.33 The CUC power system has more than 104 megawatts of capacity, including 2 megawatts of solar capacity. The territory's entire population has access to electricity.34 Several new and replacement power plants are planned, including some that use solar power. The replacements include 99 megawatts of diesel-fueled power plant replacements on Saipan and a 6-megawatt diesel-fueled power plant replacement on Rota.35

The Northern Mariana Islands are vulnerable to tropical storms. Saipan's power generation and distribution system was badly damaged by Typhoon Soudelor in 2015, which led to several months of power outages and disruptions of the public water supply and wastewater treatment systems.36,37 More recently, Typhoon Mangkhut devastated Rota in September 2018, and destroyed much of that island's energy infrastructure, and then Typhoon Yutu hit Saipan and Tinian in October 2018.38,39 In 2019, CNMI revised its economic development strategy to harden infrastructure against typhoon and earthquake damage. In 2020, the CUC received $36 million in funds from a federal grant, which will allow them to repair and harden infrastructure damaged by recent typhoons. The CUC plans to use the funds for power plant upgrades, concrete power poles, and burial of transmission lines to avoid damage from future storms.40,41,42

The commercial sector and some small industrial activities, excluding government, consume more than half of the electricity used in the Commonwealth.43 CNMI's commercial sector has been strengthened by increases in tourism, which has led to increased electricity consumption.44 Hotels use electricity mainly for air conditioning, water heating, and water purification. Most large hotels on Saipan have generators and make electricity for their own use when grid supply is unreliable or fuel surcharges are high.45 The residential sector has accounted for about three-tenths of all power consumption in CNMI. Government and the utility consume the rest.46,47

Electricity customers in CNMI pay a fuel surcharge that varies with the price of diesel fuel. In August 2020, the price of electricity for residential customers in the territory included an added fuel charge of about 12 cents per kilowatthour, almost 37% less than in July 2019 when the fuel surcharge was about 19 cents per kilowatthour for residential customers.48 The decline resulted from the decrease in world petroleum demand and prices in the same period, due, in part, to the global coronavirus pandemic.49 Given the historic volatility of petroleum prices, the CUC is improving its existing power system and adding renewable electricity sources to diversify its diesel-dependent system.50,51 The utility has worked on an integrated resource plan (IRP) to evaluate power plant replacement options that would reduce dependence on fossil fuels and accommodate proposed development and increased tourism to the islands.52

Renewable energy

Solar panels and small wind turbines provide power for schools and government buildings across the Northern Mariana Islands.

The CNMI government enacted a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in 2006 that set a target of 80% of electricity sales from renewable energy by 2014.53 The RPS was amended in 2014, and the target was reduced to 20% of electricity sales from renewable resources by 2016.54 Although the target was not met, several small-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind projects have been installed at public facilities and schools.55,56 Several larger solar energy projects are in development, including a new 3-megawatt solar PV plant on Tinian and a new 2-megawatt solar PV plant on Rota.57

Saipan, Tinian, and Rota are believed to have wind resources suitable for commercial turbines, but potential sites are limited because the islands are mountainous, and suitable land is scarce. Wind turbines must withstand typhoons but not interfere with airstrip and military facilities or negatively impact several threatened bird species.58 Even so, there are some small onshore wind installations in CNMI.59 Efforts in the U.S. Congress to amend federal law in order to authorize offshore wind development in all five U.S. territories have not been successful.60,61,62

Solar energy resources in the Northern Marianas are suitable for heating water and for electricity generation.63 CNMI law allows for net metering of customer-sited renewable energy systems with up to 100 kilowatts capacity. Total net metering is limited to 30% of the CUC system's peak demand.64 In 2014, the utility approved net metering for residential customers, and by October 2019, the CUC had 391 residential, commercial, and government net metered customers.65 Projects with combinations of solar panels and small wind turbines have been installed across the three inhabited islands.66,67 Because of the small size of the three islands' transmission systems, the intermittent and variable power from larger wind and solar projects requires careful integration into the islands' transmission systems and power balancing on those systems.68 A wind integration study is planned.69

Geothermal technologies may also offer energy potential on the Northern Marianas. The islands are in an active volcanic region, and several of the uninhabited northern islands have active volcanoes. Other renewable technologies have been considered for the Northern Mariana Islands, including the conversion of non-recyclable municipal wastes into energy.70 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.71 The CUC also has pursued energy efficiency projects, including the installation of high-efficiency bulbs in the public street-lighting system.72

Natural gas

The Commonwealth has no natural gas reserves and does not produce, import, or consume natural gas.73 However, liquefied natural gas (LNG) use has been considered, and dual fuel capability and LNG storage tanks at new power plants has been proposed.74

Coal

The Commonwealth has no coal reserves and does not produce, import, or consume coal.75

Endnotes

1 U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, Northern Mariana Islands, Geography, updated November 18, 2020.
2 DistanceFromTo, Distance from Northern Mariana Islands to Hawaii, accessed November 20, 2020.
3 DistanceFromTo, Distance from Northern Mariana Islands to Philippines, accessed November 20, 2020.
4 CNMI Office of Planning and Development, 2019 Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Update (April 30, 2019), p. 5.
5 "Mariana Islands," Encyclopaedia Britannica, accessed November 20, 2020.
6 Ballendorf, Dirk Anthony, "Northern Mariana Islands," Encyclopaedia Britannica, updated November 20, 2020.
7 "Mariana Trench," Encyclopaedia Britannica, accessed November 20, 2020.
8 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 5, 14.
9 U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, Northern Mariana Islands, Geography and Economy, updated November 18, 2020.
10 Climates to Travel, Climate—Northern Mariana Islands, accessed November 18, 2020.
11 Chiu, Allyson, Chris Mooney and Juliet Eilperin, "Extreme Category 5 typhoon, the worst U.S. storm since 1935, leaves Northern Mariana Islands devastated," Washington Post (October 25, 2018).
12 Wong, Alia, and Lenika Cruz, "The Media Barely Covered One of the Worst Storms to Hit U.S. Soil," The Atlantic (November 14, 2018).
13 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 3.
14 CNMI Office of Planning and Development, 2019 Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Update (April 30, 2019), p. 2.
15 U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, Northern Mariana Islands, People and Society, updated November 18, 2020.
16 U.S. Census Bureau, "U.S. Census Bureau Releases 2010 Census Population Counts for the Northern Mariana Islands," Press Release (August 24, 2011).
17 Goworowska, Justyna, and Steven Wilson, Recent Population Trends for the U.S. Island Areas: 2000 to 2010, U.S. Census Bureau (April 2015), p. 21.
18 "3 remaining garment firms to close down," saipantribune.com (January 6, 2009).
19 U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, Northern Mariana Islands, Economy, updated November 18, 2020.
20 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, "CNMI GDP increases in 2017, Growth led by tourism and gaming industry revenues," Press Release (October 18, 2018).
21 U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, Country Comparison, GDP Real Growth Rate, 2016 estimate.
22 The World Bank, GDP per capita (current US$), Northern Mariana Islands and the United States, 2002-18.
23 Observatory of Economic Complexity, Northern Mariana Islands Imports, accessed November 21, 2020.
24 U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Northern Mariana Islands, Profile Data, Reserves and Supply, accessed November 21, 2020.
25 U.S. EIA, Number and Capacity of Petroleum Refineries, Total Number of Operable Refineries, Annual as of January 1, 2020.
26 Commonwealth Ports Authority, Port of Saipan and Tinian Harbor, accessed November 21, 2020.
27 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 6, 21.
28 U.S. Government Printing Office, Title 40, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 80, Regulation of Fuels and Fuel Additives, Subpart H, Gasoline-Sulfur, Section 80-382, updated November 19, 2020.
29 Commonwealth Ports Authority, History, accessed November 21, 2020.
30 CNMI Department of Commerce, LFP Housing Characteristics 2017 by Fuel Cooking Fuel Type, accessed November 21, 2020.
31 Commonwealth Utilities Corporation, About Us, accessed November 22, 2020.
32 U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Energy Transitions Initiative, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Energy Snapshot DOE/GO-102020-5413 (June 2020), p. 2.
33 Commonwealth Utilities Corporation, Operations, accessed November 22, 2020.
34 U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Energy Transitions Initiative, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Energy Snapshot DOE/GO-102020-5413 (June 2020), p. 1.
35 CNMI Office of Planning and Development, 2019 Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Update (April 30, 2019), p. 73-75, D-5.
36 "Typhoon Soudelor Becomes World's Most Powerful Storm This Year After It Trashes Northern Marianas," ABC News (August 4, 2015).
37 Chan, Dennis B., "CUC: 2 to 3 Months for Power," saipantribune.com (August 31, 2015).
38 "Rota in shambles after Typhoon Mangkhut," New Zealand Radio (September 12, 2018).
39 Watanabe, Masako, "Super Typhoon Yutu slams Northern Mariana Islands with 180 mph winds," USA Today (October 18, 2018).
40 Nauta, Justine, "$36M grant for CUC OK'd," saipantribune.com (November 16, 2020).
41 CNMI Office of Planning and Development, 2019 Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Update (April 30, 2019), p. 4, D-6.
42 Cabrera, Bea, "Buried power lines eyed," saipantribune.com (February 7, 2019).
43 U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Energy Transitions Initiative, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Energy Snapshot DOE/GO-102020-5413 (June 2020), p. 1.
44 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, "CNMI GDP increases in 2017, Growth led by tourism and gaming industry revenues," Press Release (October 18, 2018), p. 2.
45 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 10.
46 U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Energy Transitions Initiative, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Energy Snapshot DOE/GO-102020-5413 (June 2020), p. 1.
47 Commonwealth Utilities Corporation, About Us, accessed November 22, 2020.
48 Commonwealth Utilities Corporation, Previous Rates, accessed November 22, 2020.
49 U.S. EIA, "Oil market volatility is at an all-time high," Today in Energy (March 27, 2020).
50 CNMI Office of Planning and Development, 2019 Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Update (April 30, 2019), Appendix D, Project Prioritizations.
51 Todiño, Junhan B., "CUC: 17 renewable-energy projects this year," The Guam Daily Post (February 13, 2018).
52 U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs, Commonwealth Utilities Corporation, 2015 Integrated Resource Plan, accessed November 22, 2020.
53 U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Energy Transitions Initiative: Islands, Energy Snapshot, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, DOE/GO-102015-4683 (June 2015), p. 1, 2.
54 Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, House of Representatives, H. B. No. 18-165, SD1 (July 22, 2014).
55 U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Energy Transitions Initiative: Islands, Energy Snapshot, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, DOE/GO-102015-4683 (June 2015), p. 3.
56 Todiño, Junhan B., "CUC: 17 renewable-energy projects this year," The Guam Daily Post (February 13, 2018).
57 CNMI Office of Planning and Development, 2019 Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Update (April 30, 2019), p. 75.
58 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 27-37.
59 U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Energy Transitions Initiative: Islands, Energy Snapshot, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, DOE/GO-102015-4683 (June 2015), p. 3.
60 Congess.gov, 115th Congress, H. R. 6665, Offshore Wind for Territories Act (December 11, 2018).
61 Offshore Wind for Territories Act, Extensions of Remarks, Congressional Record, Volume 164, Number 133 (August 10, 2018), p. E1137.
62 Congess.gov, 116th Congress, H.R.1014, Offshore Wind for Territories Act (October 11, 2019).
63 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 39-43.
64 NC Clean Energy Technology Center, DSIRE, Northern Mariana Islands, Net Metering, updated June 25, 2019.
65 De La Torre, Ferdie, "More CUC customers avail of net metering," saipantribune.com (October 16, 2019).
66 "Kilil: $658,692 for Marianas Energy Projects," saipantribune.com (June 30, 2017).
67 U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Energy Transitions Initiative: Islands, Energy Snapshot, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, DOE/GO-102015-4683 (June 2015), p. 1.
68 Baring-Gould, Ian, et al., Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Initial Technical Assessment Report, U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-7A40-50906 (July 2011), p. 43.
69 CNMI Office of Planning and Development, 2019 Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Update (April 30, 2019), p. 76.
70 Conrad, Misty Dawn, and J. Erik Ness, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Strategic Energy Plan (July 2013), p. 19.
71 "$3.5M Energy Grants for Territories," saipantribune.com (July 5, 2017).
72 Todiño, Junhan B., "CUC wants to upgrade streetlights," Marianas Variety (May 19, 2020).
73 U.S. EIA, Northern Mariana Islands, Profile Data, Reserves, Supply, and Consumption, accessed November 21, 2020.
74 CNMI Office of Planning and Development, 2019 Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Update (April 30, 2019), p. 73-75, D-5.
75 U.S. EIA, Northern Mariana Islands, Profile Data, Reserves, Supply, and Consumption, accessed November 21, 2020.


Other Resources

Energy-Related Regions and Organizations

Other Websites

map