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Oregon National Guard secures an all-natural defense

By Master Sgt. John Hughel | Oregon National Guard | Jan. 2, 2019

CLACKAMAS, Ore. – As important as all-terrain vehicles, up-to-date weaponry and cutting-edge communication systems are for the U.S. military to complete its mission, the Department of Defense (DOD) has factored in renewable energy to the list of resources vital to securing our nation.

The growth of renewable energy in the Oregon National Guard began in 2011 when Oregon was the first state chosen to participate in the “Net Zero Pilot Program.” The funding and resources made available allowed armories around the state to dramatically reduce their energy cost. 

“When awarded the Net Zero Program, Oregon became the first and only National Guard site in the overall DOD initiative,” said Kenneth Safe, construction and facilities management officer for the Oregon Army National Guard. “To reduce energy and produce energy on the site was the goal of becoming sustainable and increase security.”

There are nearly 38 Army National Guard armories throughout the state of Oregon, functioning as readiness centers for Soldiers to train, house their gear and shelter essential equipment. Several of these facilities are securing a reliable and affixed energy source by harnessing the power of the sun, all while saving taxpayer dollars.

“The cost savings is only part of the benefit to the Net Zero program,” Safe said. “It also allows these armories to be self-sufficient facilities and function for up to two weeks, if necessary, from their own power.”

Forecasting the devastation of a potential Cascadia Subduction Zone episode, maintaining the sustainability of the armories around the state will be of utmost importance. Having self-sufficient facilities will enable the Oregon Army National Guard to respond to vital community needs, operating as distribution hubs, medical response sites, and critical ongoing communication centers.

When it comes to generating electricity directly from sunlight, solar photovoltaic systems are easy to maintain and can be located almost anywhere, with no need to be refueled. The first Oregon armory to have solar panels installed was the Capt. John W. Brown Armory, in Ontario, Oregon, in 2010. Other solar panels projects quickly followed suit to include larger projects at Pendleton, Roseburg, Dallas, Camp Withycombe, and most recently at the new Maj. Gen. George A. White Joint Force Headquarters building in Salem.

“The biggest project we have done to date is at Camp Withycombe,” Safe said. “We’re installing panels that are 300 watts, or approximately three panels per kilowatt, for a total of 750 panels on the Armed Forces Reserve Center (AFRC).” 

When the AFRC was first constructed in 2011, there was an original installation of 18.8 kilowatts, Safe remarked when breaking down the numbers. In September of 2018, an additional 249.6-kilowatt array increased the projected production of 320,233 kilowatt-hours per year. The lifecycle of these solar projects is rated for a 25-year span, factoring in about a 10 percent degradation over this lifespan.

“In 2015, when Executive Order number 13693 was written (by the DOD) it specified that there were targeted goals for renewable energy savings through 2025, increasing efficiency at around two percent and compounded every year after,” Safe said.

The DOD and the Department of the Army have recognized the importance of these renewable energy projects and have set up their own funding stream. 

“That’s how we are funding our solar projects,” Safe said. “The disposition of the funds to the states helps award future projects and it is why we in Oregon have been as successful with other building projects.”

By working with local utility companies, the Oregon National Guard armories are factoring in reliable, long-term standards, which will help with project operating costs and long-term budgeting. 

“Under the Net metering agreement with other power utilities, it helps balance the books. We can produce up to as much as we use, and if we overproduce the utility just gets to keep it,” said Safe.

The impact on the environment for solar collection is minimal as the panels are mounted on rooftops, not taking up land space with ‘Solar Farms’ of panels.

“Where we have gone to some non-rooftop installations has been over parking lots which have provided car cover too,” said Jeff Mach, natural resources conservation manager for the Oregon National Guard.

An important consideration with renewable energy outside of the cost savings and sustainability are the impacts on the environment. Switching for coal and natural gas will help reduce carbon pollution and provide healthy habitats.

In a 2015 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report, the study found that in the new Clean Power Plan, renewable energy sources of wind and solar will play an expanded role in the next decade, and by 2030 could generate well over 400 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually.

“Reducing our impact on the environment is a driving factor with energy, water usage and other resources, and also fits into a broader aspect of resiliency,” said Mach. “If there was a natural disaster, it would be easier to ‘get back on your feet quicker,’ so having resources already in place serves both desires.”

In a much larger sense, solar energy is now fully capable of reducing the U.S. Military’s reliance domestically on foreign sources of fuel. When strategically planning operations outside of U.S. bases and armories, having renewable resources will augment overseas mission requirements for sustainable energy. 

According to a Defense Science Board report in 2017, “Army installations consume an average of 21 million barrels of petroleum a year.” The DOD’s move toward energy security has invigorated programs like ‘Net-Zero’ and is part of the Army Energy Security Implementation Strategy moving into the future.

In the past, American service members deployed and established positions to secure and defend gas, oil and other fuel sources needed in an area of operations. Having renewable in place will provide units in the field the energy sources they need and can control. This alone will save lives while managing renewable resources in the field.

“That’s where we’re headed next; we are going to be looking at what we can do that will build in this type of self-sufficiency,” Safe said, as he summarized the continuing plans. “If we are faced with a situation where we can benefit with a large installation training site, like Umatilla, we may want to do a combination of solar and battery storage at the same time.”

Not every training site or armory in the state is ideal for using and installing solar panels, but by reducing the cost across the state and using resources efficiently, this will help meet the 2025 goals set by Congress; where military facilities must get 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources.

“When looking at the cost per kilowatt hour and the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) this gives us a clear gauge for the overall value in these solar projects,” said Safe. “Moving forward, we want to be as efficient as possible and get the best return on investment for everyone involved.”

Over the long run, these savings will support all parties looking to plan, budget and offset the cost. In the end, having a reliable and predictable energy resource for Oregon Guard members to use in response to future public emergencies is invaluable.