On February 23, Redstone Arsenal, an Army garrison which houses research facilities including NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, completed a project to build a solar plant on base. The 10MW plant was built by SunPower using financing from Regions Bank in Birmingham. SunPower has built multiple solar farms for military bases, including a 28MW system at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The system at Redstone Arsenal includes 1MW of energy storage to account for fluctuations in demand. All of the power will be exclusively supplied to the garrison at or below average utility rates on a 27 year contract.
Redstone Arsenal Senior Commander Lt. Gen. Edward M. Daly, called the project an important step for U.S. Army energy resilience.
“Redstone Arsenal is at the forefront of Army transformation, leveraging science and technology to produce new capabilities in support of the nation’s objectives,” Daly said. “Today, we celebrate a significant achievement; the Army’s first privately funded and economically viable source of energy generation and storage.”
This project was suggested after a tornado on April 27, 2011 in Alabama left Redstone with minimal power for almost a week. Though the tornado did only minimal damage to the garrison, it relies on the commercial power grid, managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The disaster destroyed all of TVA’s large transmission lines in the area, leaving the base with only a fraction of its usual power supply for days. Overall, 340,000 people in the area were without power for six days. Further, because Redstone is considered a research facility, it was low on the list for power restoration.
However, Redstone provides critical support to NASA, in both operations and supplies, and a space shuttle liftoff was scheduled for April 29. This left many on the base relying on backup generators to perform their functions and ensure the launch happened, despite limited communications abilities.
Further, restoring power to buildings on military bases is an extensive process that requires machinery and pipes to be turned on and off manually. Some systems, such as NASA’s are extremely sensitive and difficult to switch over from one system to another. Even after full power was restored and Redstone was operational again, the electric system would not be fully repaired for months, and was extremely vulnerable to thunderstorms. This creates an ongoing security problem, especially given the fact that without power the storage of classified information was left with no security system.
However, during these outages, one area of Alabama maintained power, as they were supplied by the local Wilson hydroelectric dam. Redstone decided they need more redundancy in their system to be better prepared for the next storm, and in 2016 announced the contract for the solar farm to supply power. The solar farm will produce about 15% of energy used on the base, but Redstone aims to have 25% of the energy on base provided by renewable sources by 2025.
Sources and Further Reading:
Redstone Restored to Full Power – Army News
8 Things the 2011 Tornadoes Taught Us About Surviving a Long-Term Power Outage – Popular Mechanics
Redstone Arsenal gets solar plant as response to 2011 tornadoes – Alabama Media
Redstone Arsenal Large-Scale Renewable Energy Solar and Battery Storage Project – Assistant Secretary of the Army (Installations, Energy and Environment)