EERE Success Story— Energy Restoration and Building Resiliency in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

July 17, 2019

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When Category 5 Typhoon Yutu caused catastrophic damage to the islands of Tinian and Saipan in the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) in October 2018, more than 3,000 houses were destroyed, leaving thousands homeless, and 80–90% of people were without power for two months in the tropical heat. With support from the Department of Energy's (DOE’s) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), the CNMI’s Energy Division was able to deliver more than 950 relief care packages to families affected by the storm. Care packages included portable burner butane stoves so people could still cook food for their families, baby wipes, and toilet tissue.

“Thanks to the support of the U.S. Department of Energy, we are able to help our people,” said Thelma Inos, Director of the CMNI’s Energy Division. 

With two deaths and hundreds injured, the people of the CNMI managed to come together to bring about a sense of normalcy after the devastation. Even without electricity in their own office or homes, members of the CNMI’s Energy Division worked to deliver goods to the hardest hit areas and help connect those affected with additional services. Every day, including weekends, the CNMI’s Energy Division would leave their office at 7:00 a.m. to beat the heat and make their rounds on the islands.

“When receiving these care packages, many people became emotional and cried. They lost so much, and this helped,” said Krystal Laymon, Policy Advisor at EERE who traveled with Ms. Inos during her deliveries. “In one instance, we helped a woman with two children. At the time, the schools still were not open so they were doing their best to stay out of the heat. We asked her how she managed during the storm, and she described how she hid in a corner with a mattress over herself and her children. People really appreciated the help DOE and other federal agencies were providing for them. It was very inspiring to see CMNI’s Energy Division work to lift people up.”

Typhoons are the same storm as a hurricane but named differently due to where the storm originated. Storms formed over the Atlantic Ocean or eastern Pacific Ocean are called “hurricanes” while storms formed over the Northwest Pacific are called “typhoons.” Enduring wind speeds of 180 mph (category 5 hurricanes are defined as storms with sustained winds over 156 mph), all of Saipan and Tinian were impacted.

The effort to restore power to the CNMI was a collaboration between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and DOE’s Emergency Support Function (ESF#12), which coordinated recovery efforts with the island’s Commonwealth Utility Corporation and the CNMI government to bring power back to homes. Funding from EERE's State Energy Program allowed the CNMI's Energy Division to help residents sustain themselves while the power restoration effort took place. All five U.S. territories receive funding from EERE’s State Energy Program.

EERE’s State Energy Program, within the Weatherization and Intergovernmental Programs Office, provides funding and technical assistance to states, territories, and the District of Columbia to enhance energy security, advance state-led energy initiatives, and maximize the benefits of decreasing energy waste. The State Energy Program emphasizes the state’s role as the decision-maker and administrator for program activities tailored to their unique resources, delivery capacity, and energy goals.