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Pacific Missile Range Facility Goes Off-Grid with Solar Runway Lights

Originally published in Pacific Business News on August 29, 2010


The Pacific Missile Range Facility in Barking Sands, Kauai, aims to generate all its electricity off-grid by 2015.

The goal is part of a clean-energy initiative underway at the Naval facility that employs between 900 and 1,300 workers.

The more than 200 lights that line the missile range’s 6,000-foot runway are now powered by the sun, as are the street lights. The base is seeking bids on a contract to install photovoltaics on 10 rooftops and is collaborating with Kauai County to capture methane gas from a landfill to generate power.

Its renewable-energy strides are coupled with efforts to retrofit the base with energy-efficient lighting and appliances and install advanced meters that allow personnel to monitor energy usage. The base reduced electricity usage by almost 15 percent between 2008 and 2009.

“I’m quite proud of the efforts that have been made out here,” said base spokesman Tom Clements.

The missile range’s advances are part of a larger military effort to help Hawaii meet its goal of 70 percent clean energy by 2030 as well as aggressive measures underway on a national level to reduce dependency on imported petroleum.

Risks of disruption to foreign oil supplies, rising costs of a declining resources and concerns about the security of the nation’s electric grids have spurred efforts to cultivate alternative-energy sources and curtail energy use, according to reports from the U.S. Pacific Command and the Center for Naval Analyses Military Advisory Board.

Security of the electric grid is of particular concern.

“A fragile domestic electricity grid makes our domestic military installations, and their critical infrastructure, unnecessarily vulnerable to incident, whether deliberate or accidental,” according to a report by the Center Naval Analyses Military Advisory Board.

The military also plans to “island” other Hawaii installations, including Schofield Barracks, Kaneohe Marine Corps Base, the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and Fort Shafter. But, given that the military is Hawaii’s single largest consumer of electricity, using on average three gigawatts of electricity a day, the impact that its move off-grid could have on consumer rates has caused some concern.

“There’s no doubt that more of the burden shifts to the residents as more people who have the means to go off-grid do,” said Brad Rockwell, program manager for the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative. “It will definitely impact us and we would hope they wouldn’t go in that direction. We’ve always had a good relationship with them and hope that we can help them meet their needs as they help us meet ours.”

The missile range buys on average 12.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year from the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, or approximately 3 percent of the utility’s energy sales. With average rates of 32 cents per kilowatt-hour, this amounts to a $4 million-a-year energy bill for the Navy.

While taking bases off-line could affect consumer rates, a report by the Pacific Command details several ways in which it also can benefit the community, including assisting residents if there is an electrical outage due to a natural disaster. If smart-grid technology is implemented, the bases also can feed excess energy back into Kauai’s electric grid.