The US Defense Department (DoD) is preparing to make dozens of its key bases across America “off grid ready.” And apparently in 15 years, all Army bases are expected to be fully off-grid with renewable energy, say military sources – that’s if we are still around in 15 years.
This is a step back from a plan to take all bases completely off-grid immediately, an idea promoted by many military energy experts on security grounds. DoD’s chief environmental official, Wayne Arny, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, told lawmakers two weeks ago that DOD is split over how far to take the concept of “islanding” bases from the vulnerable national electrical grid, and that a range of options are available that may be preferable to full energy independence.
Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), chairman of the Armed Services readiness and management support subcommittee, cited the vulnerability of defense sites to potential terrorist or cyber strikes on the civilian grid, noting at a June 17 hearing that many facilities have just a few days’ backup of reserve generators.
“What’s going on to try and build in some redundant capacity so that, if such an event took place, some of our important DOD facilities wouldn’t be brought down in a matter of days?” he asked defense officials at the hearing sponsored by his subcommittee. Bayh said he believes it could take months before some of the power stations could be brought back online.
In response, Arny said the department is examining the issue. “There’s a great debate going on within the department. Some people have advocated islanding, where we could be completely self-sustained,” he said, noting that over the past decade, DOD moved to privatize its utilities. He continued that the military has tried to ensure that its critical facilities have long-term backup energy sources, and that DOD is looking to benefit from power sources in the vicinity of its installations.
Bayh pressed the matter as one of national security and urged DOD to seek legislative changes if necessary. “This is actually an area where some redundancy, some duplicative capacity may be in order to protect … defense sites, because if we’re completely reliant on the civilian power grid — and that’s vulnerable to attack … then we’ve got to … anticipate that sort of thing,” he said.
Arny said DOD is considering options, and “trying to figure what the middle way is.” He is due to leave his post in the near future, although a replacement has yet to be announced.
The Army, meanwhile, is committed to making all its bases net exporters of energy, using largely renewable and alternative power sources, within 15 years. This would appear to militate in favor of making each base capable of being fully detached from the grid, or “islanded,” for an extended period.
Defense officials were also pressed at the hearing to respond to reported conflicts between the military and private sector over the siting of renewable energy projects such as wind farms near military bases.
“The military is not particularly enamored and some have argued undercut renewable energy projects due to issues like radar signature interference,” a position that has had “a chilling effect on renewable energy projects,” Sen. John Thune (R-SD) told a panel of military officials at the hearing. Thune asked the officials what steps DOD can take to work in concert with the renewable energy industry to allow for more production sites in remote areas.
Arny responded that it is an issue being addressed by the military, noting the need for a compromise and educating base commanders to be more open to such ideas. “We can’t sit there … as a major consumer of energy and say, ‘you can’t produce energy outside my base.’ It’s just incompatible,” he told the subcommittee.
He noted that while DOD cannot do much to prevent the siting of a solar or wind facility on private land, he also had heard of the military “jawboning and causing a chilling effect. We’ve got to reverse that. We have to work with people, look at alternatives.”
At the same time, Arny noted the potentially broader impact of wind farms on some types of military radar, saying that both the wind turbine blades and the wind turbulence they create can disrupt radar. But if DOD needs to have exclusive use of that area, “then we better consider buying easements or buying land. We’ve got to work with people that are trying to produce electricity, especially [photovoltaic] in the Southwest, so that we can accommodate each other, so we understand each other’s problem.”
Thune also questioned the Air Force on its progress in meeting a goal to fill half its domestic aviation fuel requirements via an alternative fuel blend by 2016, particularly given the decision to abandon an initiative to build a coal-to-liquid plant at Malmstrom Air Force base, MT. “[H]ow can the committee help the Air Force reach its goal of using domestically produced alternative fuel?” he asked.
Air Force Deputy Assistant Secretary for Installations Kathleen Ferguson could not provide an answer, and promised to respond in the future.
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