PMRF eyes green energy solutions

LIHUE — When the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands begins consolidating its electric grid with $30 million in federal funding earmarked for the project, it’s Capt. Bruce Hay’s hope that alternative energy will be part of the solution.

Consolidating the base’s four distinct grids into one will allow power to move more freely from where it’s generated to where it’s needed on the base.

All told, 17 percent of the base’s operating budget is funneled toward utilities, according to Hay. About 99 percent of that money is spent on electricity.

“Ultimately our goal is to reduce our cost of energy,” said Hay, PMRF’s commanding officer. “The unknown right now is what to plug in to. We’ll always be at least partly tied to KIUC, but the goal is to take advantage of green power.”

Landfill gas and pumped hydro storage are examples of the kinds of technologies PMRF is discussing with Kauai Island Utility Cooperative and the county as it develops a plan to reduce its energy footprint.

“PMRF is one of our largest and most important customers and our engineers have worked with them on these plans for a number of years,” said KIUC Spokesman Jim Kelly. “Basically the upgraded system would give PMRF more flexibility, more resilience and better system reliability. It also gives PMRF some more options in terms of renewable energy production because they’ll have the infrastructure to support it.”

Hay said the base’s biggest drains on power are the larger buildings, many of which are not energy efficient and cost a significant sum to air condition.

“If you look at the history of the base, no one would ever have envisioned being where we are at today,” Hay said. “The electrical system was updated as the base grew. My office building was built as a temporary structure and as you can imagine the energy awareness standards were quite different.”

Radar and other equipment also use a large amount of power, but Hay said they are only switched on when needed.

Depending on which technologies are used, the return on investment could be realized in as little as just a few years, he said.

“As a taxpayer, my taxes pay for this and it’s nice to know it’s a smart investment that will pay for itself in addition to creating a more viable base,” Hay said. “The more green it is, the quicker the return on investment.”

In addition to cutting energy costs, the project also marks a crucial step toward ensuring that the base can manage its load requirements to support Ballistic Missile Defense testing and other Navy missions.

The money PMRF is earmarked to receive in the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill is part of a larger $444 million package for military construction projects across Hawaii. Other appropriations include $46 million for a F-22 fighter alert facility to strengthen the readiness of the Hawaii Air National Guard and $124 million for a Behavioral Health and Dental Clinic at Schofield Barracks that will help improve the capacity of the base to help service members get care.

Hay said he expects to receive the $30 million for PMRF before the end of this fiscal year. The goal, he said, is to design, construct and complete the project by the end of 2018.

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