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Security, Resiliency and Opportunity

To balance against the risks of aging national grid infrastructure and to increase energy independence, the U.S. Air Force is utilizing multiple renewable technologies to secure reliable energy sources off grid and position the service for the challenges of tomorrow.


 By David J. Bek, P.E., M.SAME, and Robert E. Moriarty, P.E., SES, F.SAME



Wind turbines at F.E Warren AFB

The three wind turbines at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo., supply 9 percent of the installation’s energy needs. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO BY LANCE CHEUNG


In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy struck the east coast of the United States, hurling wind and rain inland at speeds upward of 80-mph. The destruction left millions without power.

In New Jersey, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB MDL) established an emergency operations center that quickly became the region’s disaster relief hub. The base provided staging and logistical support to over 100 agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It took nearly a week for JB MDL to restore full power—a delay that slowed response efforts and hindered its full mission capability.

For better or worse, most of the United States is entirely dependent on a steady supply of energy from an aging national grid. The aftermath of Sandy revitalized a long-held concern for both major metro­politan and defense communities: energy security and supply continuity.

“There is no airpower without power,” says The Honorable Miranda Ballentine, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment & Energy. “Diversification of traditional, centralized power with decentralized, renewable power makes Air Force bases more nimble and robust. In fact, securing on-site renewable energy enhances mission readiness.”

Mission assurance depends on energy assurance. Energy powers every aspect of air, space and cyberspace dominance.



The Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC) implements a wide range of renewable energy technologies at installa­tions across the country—from wind, solar and geothermal, to biomass and waste-to-energy. Through its strategic use of non-excess land for energy production AFCEC simultaneously decreases the Air Force’s use of grid-based energy while returning value to the service and to neighboring localities.

At Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, for example, five 1.4-MW GE Jebaucher gas-fired generators burn enough methane to account for 26 percent of the base’s energy needs. The natural gas used by the generators, however, does not come from traditional sources. The generators are fed with methane, a byproduct of waste decomposition, produced by the nearby Anchorage Municipal Solid Waste Landfill.

Burning off the methane generated by the landfill used to cost $60,000 per year. Now, a 7-MW Landfill Gas Waste-to-Energy Plant, which is tied directly into the base’s grid, is projected to save taxpayers $50 million over its 46-year lifespan. The savings—rounded out to approxi­mately $1 million per year—comes from the electricity that is produced by the methane running through the generators. This project is especially advanta­geous from a supply continuity stand­point. The landfill produces methane constantly, providing 24/7 fuel for the generators and assured power for Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.



The first Air Force wind energy proj­ect in the continental United States was constructed at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo.

Three commercial scale turbines, a Gamesa G87 2-MW, and two Vestas V47 660-KW, have a combined generat­ing capacity of 3.3-MW and produce 10-million-kWh of electricity per year. The Gamesa, which has been online since 2009, was funded specifically for testing microgrid capabilities on the base. These turbines are tied directly into F.E. Warren’s power grid. They account for 9 percent of the base’s energy needs—power no longer needed from the outside grid.



Covering 140-acres of desert sand, a 14.7-MW solar array at Nellis AFB, Nev., has come to represent the success of the Air Force renewables program.

The 72,000 panels of the array produce 31-million-kWh of electricity per year, or 25 percent of the base’s energy needs removed from the outside grid. AFCEC and base officials, buoyed by the success of the solar array, have decided to expand the existing array with a 19-MW addition. The new array is currently under construction. Once complete, the combined solar power plants will account for 42 percent of Nellis AFB’s total energy requirements.

Air Force helicopter being fueled during Superstorm Sandy

Airmen with the 87th Logistics Readiness Squadron pump fuel to a National Guard HH-60 Black Hawk on Nov. 4, 2012. Following Superstorm Sandy, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst provided staging and logistical support to more than 100 agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Slowing response efforts, however, was the fact that it took nearly a week for the base to receive full power restoration. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO BY STAFF SGT. DAVID CARBAJAL



While on-site power generation brings great value to the host installation, AFCEC’s real estate experts seek business arrange­ments that leverage Air Force property to its highest and best use.

In today’s budget-constrained environ­ment, money earned through leasing non-excess federal land can help installations fund infrastructure upgrades and replace­ments that might otherwise go unfunded, further bolstering mission readiness.

In Arizona, a 100-acre parcel of non-excess land at Luke AFB will soon host a 10-MW solar array. Instead of gener­ating power for the base, power will be routed directly to the public grid with the base collecting rent from the developer. Throughout the duration of the 30-year enhanced use lease (EUL), which was signed in June 2014, Luke AFB stands to earn more than $5 million in revenue.

With the capacity to generate both renew­able energy and revenue, several more energy-based EULs are in various stages of development across the country, includ­ing at Robins AFB, Ga.; Eglin AFB, Fla.; Edwards AFB, Calif.; and now, JB MDL.

The benefits of a successful energy proj­ect extend far beyond the gates of the base. It means more jobs in the local community. It provides improved energy reliability and service for the entire region. And in the case of the EUL project at JB MDL, it has delivered a more than $1 billion energy infrastructure investment for New Jersey.

Little more than two and a half years after Superstorm Sandy, JB MDL is poised to host the largest clean energy park built on Air Force property. The project proposed by the Starwood/Siemens development team could ultimately produce more than 550-MW of combined solar, biomass and clean natural gas power generation.

Phase One includes two photovoltaic solar arrays generating 30-MW of renew­able energy. Phase Two calls for 15-MW to 20-MW of additional renewable energy currently planned as a biomass plant. Phase Three, a combined cycle gas turbine plant, would supply the public grid with more than 500-MW of clean energy.

The conglomeration of energy sources and capabilities opens the door to more than monetary return. With opportunities for energy storage, on-site power genera­tion, smart grid and microgrid integration, and black start capability, JB MDL could have the ability to restore power without relying on the external electric grid.

For the Air Force, the JB MDL energy project is a pilot for combining alternative financing programs like EULs and power purchase agreements, while integrating multiple energy technologies.



Today, AFCEC manages 10 operational renewable energy projects of more than 1-MW on Air Force bases in the continental United States and has more than 65 projects currently in development.

The operational generating capacity of the existing systems is 102-MW, which will increase to 610-MW when those in development come online. These are mission-critical projects that, according to Assistant Secretary Ballentine, directly protect and support the Air Force mission: “Every base we make more energy diverse—the Air Force is that much more resilient and prepared to fly, fight, and win. That is how we protect the mission today; that is how we will achieve it tomorrow.”



David J. Bek, P.E., M.SAME, is Director, Energy Directorate, Air Force Civil Engineer Center, Tyndall AFB, Fla.; 850-283-6341, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." target="_blank">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Robert E. Moriarty, P.E., SES, F.SAME, is Director, Installations Directorate, Air Force Civil Engineer Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas; 210-395-9503, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." target="_blank">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..