JANUARY 7, 2019 – A solar power plant with energy-storage capability that went online this year at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, and a biofuel power plant at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, were among projects that helped the Army gain recognition in 2018 with an award from the Federal Energy Management Program.
“This was recognition for a tremendous amount of teamwork,” said Michael McGhee, executive director of the Army Office of Energy Initiatives. His office oversees and facilitates privately-funded, large-scale energy projects on Army land.
OEI has facilitated $627 million in such projects on 17 Army installations over the past five years. Many of the projects allow utility companies to use Army land in exchange for developing electricity projects more affordably. Some of these projects will save the Army money over the long-term, states the Department of Energy award, but more importantly, they also improve energy security and resilience.
Energy resilience is a top priority for the Army, said Jack Surash, acting deputy assistant secretary of the Army for energy and sustainability.
“Uninterrupted access to energy is essential to sustaining critical Army missions,” Surash testified at a House energy subcommittee hearing Dec. 12. He went on to say such uninterrupted power is becoming more challenging “as potential vulnerabilities emerge in the nation’s utility-distribution infrastructure.”
Threats to the grid include more sophisticated cyberattacks and more frequent severe storms, earthquakes and tsunamis, McGhee said. In consideration of these threats, current Army policy requires critical mission activities to be provided with a minimum of 14 days of energy, which McGhee emphasized is focused on the mission-critical infrastructure that must anticipate the potential for long-term power outages. He added a couple of Army installations currently also have the ability to keep the whole base operating for more than three or four days if the grid goes down.
One of them is Schofield Barracks with its biofuel plant that became operational in May.
The Oahu project exemplifies a partnership with a utility company that helps maximize the value for another party’s investment while also serving the needs of the Army, McGhee said.
Hawaiian Electric needed to build a new power plant. The older ones were typically built along the coastline because most of the people lived there and that’s where the fuel shipments came in.
“Unfortunately, that’s also where the strongest effects of a storm surge would be felt in a tsunami or other extreme-weather event,” McGhee said. So the company was looking to place its new plant on higher ground with more security and less risk.
Behind the secure perimeter of Schofield Barracks was an obvious choice, McGhee said.
The biofuel plant provides power to Oahu during peak-demand periods. It has the capability to be decoupled from the grid in case of a grid emergency, McGhee said, and Schofield Barracks has the first right to power from the plant in such an emergency.
The 50-megawatt power plant can provide 100 percent of the power needed to keep Schofield Barracks, Wheeler Army Airfield and Field Station Kunia running during a grid power emergency, according to OEI.
Several days of biofuel are stored on site at the plant and 30 days are available on the island, McGhee said. The plant also uses regular fuel oil and could even be operated on liquefied natural gas, providing what he termed as even more resilience.
For emergency power design, a reliable source of fuel and the ability to use more than one type of fuel is the key to long-term sustainability of operations, he said. In the case of severe weather, resupply of fuel for back-up power often becomes a problem, he added, so having the ability to resupply from multiple sources with multiple types of fuel is desired.
“We need something more than just your standard backup of diesel generators, in order to have a more resilient solution,” McGhee said.
One of the problems with energy resilience from renewable-power sources, such as solar or wind power, has been the lack of ability to store the power for use when the wind stops or the sun goes down.
Until recently, storage options have not been affordable.
“It’s not so much the technology has gotten cheaper as it is that the manufacturing has gotten to be more extensive, lowering the unit cost,” McGhee said of large-scale battery storage units.
“It’s very exciting for us, because we’ve been looking forward to this moment to couple large-scale, utility-size batteries with our existing large-scale, energy-generation projects that we helped develop,” he said.
The Redstone Arsenal project was OEI’s first foray into large-scale utility batteries, McGhee said, but added several more “are in the works” and could be part of projects in the coming year.
“It’s happening very quickly,” he said, “Companies are better understanding the technology, but they’re also better understanding the value proposition.” More developers are now actively seeking partners for battery-storage projects, he said.
“That technology at an affordable price enables so many other technologies and so many design options that weren’t available before.
“Large-scale affordable battery storage … provides the most compelling new option paths available that are intriguing to improving resilience on Army installations,” he added.
The 1-megawatt battery that became operational on Redstone in February can provide power for 2 megawatt hours, McGhee said, and added that future battery projects are likely to be much larger
Additional components must be added to the Redstone project to enable long-term backup power, he said. But planning is underway for a potential microgrid that could provide sustainable power at the arsenal for a long-term emergency.
Large-scale batteries are being evaluated to possibly be added to existing projects at other installations, McGhee said.
For instance, 30-megawatt alternating-current solar photovoltaic power plants have been operating for a couple of years now on Forts Gordon, Benning and Stewart in Georgia.
Fort Rucker and Anniston Army Depot in Alabama have 10-megawatt solar projects that are part of microgrids providing energy to the installations.
Fort Detrick, Maryland, has a 15-megawatt solar project with 59,994 panels that have been providing electricity to the post since 2016.
Fort Hood, Texas has both a 15-megawatt solar array on-post and a 50-megawatt wind turbine farm off-post that have been providing electricity to Fort Hood since 2017. All of these projects could potentially benefit from large-scale battery storage, according to McGhee.
“The batteries we are looking at have a relatively small footprint and require little maintenance,” he said, adding, “they’re a very low-touch kind of technology that has tremendous benefit.”
Natural Gas may be a trend for the coming year, McGhee said. The cost of natural gas has come down, he explained, making it more economical to build smaller utility electrical plants fueled by gas.
A utility company in Lawton, Oklahoma, is looking at investing in a natural gas plant along with a solar array on Fort Sill, he said. His office is working with the utility on a design and they are beginning environmental reviews. If approved, the project would utilize an “enhanced-use lease authority” where the utility company would be allowed to use the land for siting the natural gas and solar plants in return for providing a backup power capability to the installation.
Most of the OEI projects have used either the enhanced-use lease authority or power purchase agreements to provide energy sustainability, but McGhee said he looking at other options to enhance microgrids. Controls that enable energy from plants to be more efficiently applied to installation facilities could merit direct Army funding he said.
Energy Savings Performance Contracts are another option. ESPCs involve privately-financed design and installation of equipment that provides energy savings over time and those savings then enable the government to pay back the private investment. Utility Energy Service Contracts, or UESCs, can also provide services to improve installation power equipment reliability, or McGhee said with more creative thinking, create microgrids.
“We’re weaving together a collection of authorities that very often are not considered in concert,” McGhee said. OEI helps garrisons that that may not have the experience or resources to be working with all the different types of authorities.
“Our office tries to bring a more integrated solution,” he said.
TEAMWORK FOR READINESS
OEI actually received the FEMP Federal Energy and Water Management Award on Oct. 23 from the Department of Energy. McGhee said he accepted the award on behalf of the many commands and garrisons that helped coordinate the 11 projects above. The Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters and Districts and Centers of Expertise, Installation Management Command, Mission and Installation Contracting Command and Army Materiel Command, along with the Defense Logistics Agency, were among organizations that McGhee said deserve credit for the team award.
The award states the projects generate a total of 350 megawatts of distributed energy that help stabilize and reduce the Army’s costs while improving its security, resilience and reliability.
“Supporting Army readiness is the No. 1 priority,” McGhee said. “Our systems are being designed to improve the Army’s installation readiness.
“In addition we are helping to modernize the Army’s energy infrastructure, adding new technologies, and adding new protections that help us be ready for the needs of tomorrow, to include things like cyber intrusion.”
By Gary Sheftick, Army News Service