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Solar-Powered Islands

Tokelau is a group of small islands in the South Pacific Ocean. Officials now say they have become the world's first territory totally powered by the sun. The move to solar energy is expected to save money and ease the environmental burden of depending on imported fossil fuels.

New Zealand's foreign affairs minister, Murray McCully, announced the Tokelau Renewable Energy Project. He said Tokelau's three main atolls, or islands, now have enough solar capacity to meet all of their electricity needs. He said Tokelau had been completely dependent on diesel fuel for producing electricity. That burdened the territory with heavy economic and environmental costs.

Tokelau is about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii. The self-administering territory of New Zealand has about 1500 citizens. Each atoll received its own solar power grid system. New Zealand officials estimate the cost of the project to be about $7 million. The last of the grids was completed earlier this month.

Oil imports are a big cost in some parts of the Pacific. The move to solar power could save Tokelau about $1 million a year. One project coordinator said Tokelau would now be able to spend more on social programs to help its citizens.

Other South Pacific islands are attempting similar projects. The island nations of Samoa and Tuvalu are aiming to get all of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

The Cook Islands plans to start using solar panels and wind turbines. And houses in the South Pacific groups of islands are beginning to use solar water heaters. New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister adds that his country will hold a Pacific energy summit in March next year.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Laurel Bowman. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 19Nov2012)