TEO nominee Tim Jones confirmed by House
“What I have envisioned for American Samoa in the form of energy and energy stability is strong and powerful. I have the best interest of all the people at heart,” said Timothy Jones Sr, during his confirmation hearing before the House Government Operations Committee, chaired by Rep Faimealelei Anthony Allen. Jones, who was nominated by the governor for Director of Territorial Energy Office, received the green light in the House of Representatives in a vote of 13-5.
In his opening statement, Jones spoke of the need for “a strong cooperation between TEO and ASPA to do what TEO should have done since their inception and to assist ASPA in researching, identifying funding, and implementing renewable resources for energy that can be found here in American Samoa in abundance.”
“I’m an engineer focusing on energy and I have been working with energy and power for 30 years,” he said, adding, "I will not tell you I know everything about energy because it’s a constant learning process as technology develops.”
He noted that “American Samoans have been crushed by the cost of energy and their utility bills. ASPA has no choice, as they buy the diesel and have no control over the cost.”
Jones then said, “I believe in the next four to six years we can turn the tide and wind back the clock to where all of us have equal and affordable energy and we will be in control of that resource. My main focus will on the ocean as it is an unlimited power supply,” and included a brief description of OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion) as a renewable power source.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Jones shared with the lawmakers that the cutback in federal funding currently happening (referring to the sequester, which lawmakers in the U.S. Congress are grappling with) is something he has never seen in his 48 years. “I’m struggling to understand how to develop new programs or projects with the cutback, but I can assure you that payroll has been budgeted up to 2014.”
However he said, he will come up with a strong business plan that would maneuver projects, “given that we have captive customers, utility consumers guaranteed, the technologies are proven and all we need is the funding to build and operate.”
A few of the faipule asked about solar power as an efficient renewable source of energy.
Jones explained that “we have put up one of the largest solar rate arrays in the Pacific — it can deliver 1.8 megawatts worth of power; our base load in the territory is about 18 megawatts, which fluctuates day and night.” He noted that this is only 10% of the power grid and it is dependent on the sun — “once a cloud passes over, that number goes from 1.8 to 0” — and under ideal situations is only supplying the power for two to three hours of the day.
“The rest of the time the power goes up and down, with nothing at all delivered during the night time,” Jones said, adding that is when ASPA generators must step in.
“That solar array cost $4.5 million to build — it's a very expensive way to generate a small amount of power, when we talk about ASPA’s 24-hour demand. ASPA is unable to lower their power rate because those solar panels — while impressive — are unable to capture enough power and spread it out over the course of the day to allow ASPA to lower our electric bill."
Jones said, “We need to do more, we need to go bigger and we need to be more cost effective with the money we have. We have spent a lot of money in this last three years, to try to assist in the efforts of reducing energy consumption and the cost of our electric power, but it has met with little success. I believe I can bring you a process more successful, and more cost effective — it's not going to be cheap but it’s my job find the money, and bring the proposal to you for acceptance, and I can do that in the next four years.”
He said that the ocean, which is an unlimited source of power and all around us, is where he envisions our renewable energy supply coming from.
Following queries from house members, Jones informed them that TEO is 100% federally funded.
Faimealelei, asked if TEO is returning any federal funds.
Jones replied that close to $140 thousand has to be used by April, while another $160,000 has to be used by September, or returned — the funds are left over from close to $30 million that TEO has been awarded over the past three years.
The nominee anticipates that TEO will have to return $140,000 and there’s nothing he can do about it, however, the $160,000, he can manage to use for an outreach program and be in compliance with regulations.
Faimealelei pointed out that it’s not so much spending the money foolishly but spending it ethically. He noted it's a shame that TEO will have to return the money, so when they apply for these grants again, the federal government will be less inclined to give it to them (they can say we were given money that we did not spend it.)
Fofo faipule Puletu Dick Koko did not mince words, telling Jones that TEO and ASPA should be working together given they have the same goal, to help the people of American Samoa. “I want to see some changes for the benefit of the people,” he said.
Jones assured the representatives that he is working with ASPA CEO Utu Abe Malae as a partner and "as brothers".
“There was little cooperation between ASPA and TEO and I’ve heard it all the way up to the grantors in the United States, who were inquiring if I could resolve the conflict" he said.
" I can confirm that the conflict is gone… 100%... when the new administration took over and the new ASPA and TEO leaders took over.
"The conflict between ASPA and TEO had nothing to do with the employees, it was the people who were leading the departments that had problems,” said Jones.
Rep Fatulegaee Mauga asked if TEO provides assistance for low income families. The nominee responded that TEO does have programs, and he's seen the reports, but has not yet audited the reports for procedural process, and to discover who benefited.
Jones added that following his inquiries, the result was a disturbing response, because there was no exact formula in these programs. He added that there is an appliance program that will be renewed however it's unclear how much money will be received in this program, which is meant to assist low income families.
In this program, low income families can turn in their old refrigerators and air conditioning units for new, energy efficient ones, which are more cost effective and use less energy, making them more beneficial to members of the community.
The nominee further stated that when he came into office, there were 15 employees at TEO, however it has been reduced down to seven because as funding runs out, they are releasing staff. He noted that this happened before he came into office.
Looking to the future, Jones noted, "We're going to breathe new life into the Strategic Energy Plan,” for the territory.
Chairman Faimealelei in his closing remarks noted "we have seen many people come into these chambers with plans, but very few with vision" and noted that Jones, did indeed have "both the vision and the passion" to do this job, and he called it a "common denominator for success."
The Senate confirmation hearing for Jones is scheduled for this Thursday morning.