Electricity 'microgrid' at sub base could save money, provide backup
Johanna Somers
The Day
June 22, 2014
State helping Navy put together funding for project

Groton — A "smart energy" electricity microgrid is the next big project for the Naval Submarine Base, which is using the help of the state Office of Military Affairs to identify a combination of federal, state and private sector funding for the project.

The state agency is exploring the option of a long-term purchasing agreement with an energy provider in order to attract private sector financing for the microgrid project, said Bob Ross, the executive director for OMA.

The state has spent $11 million of the $40 million that was set aside by the General Assembly in 2007 for submarine base infrastructure improvements. A microgrid, which could provide electricity for the base around the clock and provide a backup system during power outages, could reduce the base's operating costs and protect it from an electrical grid attack.

"It's a smart energy grid, which will allow us to take our local energy generation sources and incorporate them with a smart distribution control infrastructure to provide continuous power to critical buildings on the installation," the base commander, Capt. Carl A. Lahti, said in an interview earlier this month.

The base is one of nine recipients of grants from the Microgrid Grant and Loan Pilot Program announced by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection last July. Under the program, which is expected to make more grants available this fall, the sub base was awarded a $3 million grant to install a 5 megawatt cogeneration turbine and a 1.5 megawatt diesel generator to serve various buildings and piers.

"If you think about electricity as a vulnerability - if somebody wants to cause havoc and they deliberately sabotage the regular grid, we want to protect the Navy from it or a natural disaster," Ross said.

The military affairs office is trying to continue demonstrating to the Navy and Department of Defense the value of the state's one active DOD base, in order to prevent it from being downsized or closed.

The submarine base was targeted in 1993 for a partial closure and in 2005 for complete closure by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) process, which aims to make the military operate more efficiently. It survived both listings. The state Office of Military Affairs was established in 2007 following the 2005 BRAC. Another BRAC round is expected in 2017.

Staff from the office of the Secretary of the Navy have visited Connecticut to discuss the microgrid project, Ross said. They came in response to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's visit to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in March. Malloy told the secretary the state would like to partner with the Navy in building a microgrid at the sub base but did not have the authority or staff expertise at the base to proceed.

It also makes sense for a state such as Connecticut with expensive energy costs to invest in a microgrid, Ross said.

"The cost of energy is high in Connecticut, and that means that the base operating budget is high because they have to pay high rates for energy, just like everybody else in New England," he said.

Private sector investment would be a "win-win" for both state and federal governments, which would be leveraging those funds, and for the investors because they would get a predictable and profitable return, he said.

Energy generation sources for the microgrid could including natural gas, electric turbine generators, solar, diesel or battery.

The state agency plans to have an industry forum to solicit ideas about what would need to take place in order to create the microgrid, Ross said. Ultimately, the Navy would put out a request for proposals.

Ross said he didn't know how much the project might cost but that a microgrid project at a military base in Hawaii, Marine Corps Camp H.M. Smith on Oahu, is projected to cost $8 million. The microgrid in Hawaii is expected to be finished by the spring of 2015, according to an article by the Association of Defense Communities.

Other projects that the OMA has contributed to include a new boiler, a new dive locker for Navy divers and a submarine bridge training facility to help train staff on how to drive a submarine on the surface of the water.