Renewable energy for the Department of the Navy (DON) is not a distant goal or a vision of the future—rather it’s a change for the better that is happening all around us, and it’s happening quickly. The DON’s pursuit of renewable energy is being accomplished in many ways, one of which we can see at the 17 megawatt (MW) solar farm that started construction at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune last week. This is the very first project executed by the DON’s Renewable Energy Program Office (REPO), which was established to help achieve Secretary Mabus’ renewable energy goals to increase the DON’s energy security and operational capability.
The way this project model works is the utility (in Camp Lejeune’s case, Duke Energy) builds a renewable energy asset (e.g. a solar farm) on-base. The energy generated from the asset is then available for consumption for all the utility’s customers, including the base that hosts the asset. This means power diversification and regional resiliency for the base as well as the surrounding community. As you can imagine, increasing the sources from which we obtain our power gives us a strategic advantage, since it means we can minimize the risk of power outages that can interrupt mission-critical activities. Just like you would diversify your stock portfolio to minimize the risk of financial loss, we need to diversify our energy portfolio.
By hosting a power source on our base, we can also protect that asset. Here in the US, many of the electrical grid’s most important components sit out in the open. We don’t think about it much, but this presents a security risk as it leaves our power sources vulnerable. For example, in 2013, an individual deliberately cut communication lines and attacked a substation in an event that was deemed by the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), to be “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred”; 17 out of 23 transformers were destroyed and the damage took 27 days to repair.
Unprotected energy assets are also subject to accidents involving civilian and commercial vehicles which can disrupt electrical service. There are many recent examples of this happening, such as an accident in June 2015 where a car in Hawaii hit a transformer and subsequently caused a shopping mall, and 140 homes and businesses in the area to lose power. When our power is vulnerable, our base is vulnerable, since power is critical to everything we do. On our base, we can offer an energy generation asset the full protection of the Department of the Navy, and minimize that vulnerability.
But the benefits to the Navy don’t stop there. In exchange for the right to use our land, the utility will provide the base with additional energy security benefits that offset the cost of the land such as updated electrical infrastructure or electrical lines. Apart from the regional resiliency of having access to an additional source of power, the surrounding communities will also benefit from the economic influx the project will bring in the form of capital investments, construction activity, and job creation.
These types of renewable energy projects, like the one at MCB Camp Lejeune, are win-win-win situations. They will be good for the utilities, good for the bases and good for the local communities involved. On a macro level, the project at MCB Camp Lejeune and the other projects sited on other installations are an incredible opportunity for the DON to move into the 21st century of energy. As the DON continues to execute projects like this one at Navy and Marine Corps installations around the country, we will strengthen our energy security each time. This is the beginning of an era of energy innovation, and the pursuit of this innovation will make us a stronger and better Navy and Marine Corps.