The Fort Knox energy team demonstrated during an Energy Security Project ribbon-cutting ceremony May 6, the installation's capability to operate independently of external power sources using natural gas from beneath the post's surface -- a first for a U.S. military installation.
The project was originally conceived to address mission readiness issues experienced in 2009 when an ice storm left Fort Knox and much of Kentucky without power for several consecutive days.
The harvesting of renewable methane gas on post in recent years and the installation's six new energy substations that include gas generators now allow Fort Knox to continue 100 percent of its operations if power from the external utility provider is cut off. The post's 3.7 megawatts of solar arrays and 6 million square feet of building space that is heated and cooled using geothermal energy has allowed the post to reduce its dependency on using other power sources, such as gas, as well.
"We're giving back gold to the taxpayers," said Garrison Commander Col. T.J. Edwards. "Our (Directorate of Public Works) estimates that we will save about $8 million per year from peak shaving."
Peak shaving describes another primary purpose of the Energy Security Project -- switching to Fort Knox-produced power when energy demand strains the off-post energy utility, which is also when costs to purchase energy are at its highest. Combined with the savings achieved through geothermal heating and cooling, Fort Knox's annual energy utility bill is projected to be $18 million less.
"Our energy team is special," said Edwards. "We've won nine consecutive Secretary of the Army energy awards. But we don't sit on our laurels. We're constantly getting after it, asking how do we get better."
Katherine Ham-mack, the assistant secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment, addressed the criticality for installations to maintain operating capability at all times.
"Energy security underwrites our unique ability to rapidly deploy, employ and sustain military forces around the globe, she said. "And it's for that reason the Army is moving toward building resilience into our installations."
Fort Knox's ability to achieve this "resilience" was credited by the secretary and garrison commander as a result of Fort Knox Director-ate of Public Works, contracting command and legal officials working to establish partnerships with third parties whose expertise is in the energy field.
As an example, Edwards singled out Brandon Marcum, an engineer and Harshaw Trane subcontractor for Nolin Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation, or RECC, as a central figure in creating and developing the concept that became the Energy Security Project.
"We have authorities to work with third parties, leveraging core competency, capability and funding to enable us to meet our mission," said Hammack. "The private sector partners have stepped up to help the Army in meeting our mission requirements."
Nolin RECC staff gave the audience of about 150 area and military leaders, Fort Knox employees and area community members an inside look at its energy security bunker through a live video stream. Attendees were told how all of the systems function to achieve energy independence and peak shave. The built-in redundancies to prevent power failure -- such as an off-site energy security bunker and the multiple, secured substations -- were touted as well during the demonstration.
The formal celebration of the occasion involved a unique twist. Dignitaries and Army leaders didn't cut a ribbon, they unplugged a ribbon. The ribbon was an LED cord, and when it was unplugged in the middle, the side connected to the Fort Knox power source stayed lit, symbolizing Fort Knox's energy independence.
"Kentucky is very proud of the efforts here," said Dave Thompson, Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs executive director. "We see Fort Knox as a growing installation with undeniable potential for the future. Job well done."