HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - An exciting new energy project is saving Redstone Arsenal money, and also allowing the installation to have power if severe weather strikes.
On Friday, Army and Redstone leaders cut the ribbon on the new solar energy and battery storage project.
It's located on 114 acres and will generate enough energy to power 2,500 homes per year.
Redstone Arsenal purchases the electricity produced by the project at costs less than current and projected utility rates.
"This is an on-site solar array paired with battery storage that gives this installation a pretty large degree of energy security where we generate electricity on site. To mitigate the intermittency of solar, we have battery storage on site to provide energy to the installation in its critical missions," explained Jordan Gillis, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy & Environment
Michael McGhee, is the executive director of the Army Office of Energy Initiatives, an organization the Army established several years ago to help facilitate the development of large scale renewable and alternative energy security projects for army installations. At the event, he broke down the impact of the project.
"We're trying to find the right opportunities that we can take advantage of. Several years ago, there were a series of tornadoes that went through Redstone Arsenal and it was a bit of a wakeup call for them about the fragility of their ability of their power when they need it and where they get it from. So increasing the diversity of their power sources improves the reliability of their systems. Bringing the generation source of that power closer to where they use, right here on base if possible, also improves the reliability of their power," he explained.
The on-site solar array generates about 10 megawatt of energy and is coupled with a 1 MW / 2 MW-hour battery storage energy system. This project includes a lease and a 27-year Renewable Energy Services Agreement.
"The addition of this solar farm sets conditions for us to be more energy resilient. If there were ever a disaster, which occurred in the past, 2011 is the one everyone thinks about, if that were to happen again or something like, we have the ability to power a good portion of our operations without needed to draw from the community which allows them to get on their feet quicker as well. So it's about community resiliency, not just Redstone," stated Colonel Tom Holliday, Redstone Arsenal's Garrison Commander.
The renewable energy facility generates fuel-free power on-site to support Redstone Arsenal and its tenants.
"It gives us some price predictability when it comes to shaving the peaks off of the energy that we get off the grid at large but it also gives us stability, security, sustainability if there is a disruption from the grid, power coming from off site," Gillis said. "Certainly we appreciate the renewable aspect of solar energy but really what we're trying to get after here is the energy security and the energy resilience which is important to Army installations across the nation."
"The price of things like solar power is dropping considerably and the price of large scale utility batteries like the one behind me is dropping rapidly. It provides the opportunity to get power at an affordable price. This project saves the base money and improves their resiliency posture by having more diverse sources of energy available closer to the source of where they use it. It's a good deal for Redstone Arsenal," McGhee added.
The project enhances energy resilience by adding diversity to Redstone Arsenal's energy supply and adds operational flexibility for a potential future microgrid.
"It's outfitted with a one megawatt battery and having the capability to integrate it with other technologies on the base has the opportunity to be included in a future microgrid that would also contribute to the base's independence from the grid," said Nathan Griset, Director of Commercial and Public Sector Accounts for Sunpower, Inc. "The way that we design these tracking systems is such that they can withstand pretty severe wind conditions in inclement weather."
Redstone's Garrison Commander says there are other energy projects happening. They're doing things with geothermal initiatives as well. It's not adding electricity, but it's changing the cost of electricity. The installation has saved $1.5million over the past year just in added capabilities and efficiency savings.
"We're looking at every aspect to try to make us as resilient, as effective and as efficient as we can be," Col. Holliday said.
The project was designed, built and operated by Sunpower, Inc. They incurred the cost of the project while Redstone Arsenal provided the land.
While Redstone Arsenal has not provided any funding or investment, the installation is immediately drawing power from the solar farm, officials said.
Operating under a 27-year power purchase agreement (PPA), the microgrid-ready facility offers all-green electricity at rates competitive with traditional energy sources, according to SunPower. The PPA eliminates a capital expenditure by the Army. Financing was provided by Regions Bank of Birmingham.
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