Enhancing Collaboration with Electric Companies
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – At Fort Belvoir, Va., a pilot program is bringing together the local utility and other stakeholders to assess the resilience of the base’s grid. (Photo Credit: DOD PHOTO BY MARC BARNES) VIEW ORIGINAL
Enhancing Collaboration with Electric Companies
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A recently signed Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Army and Edison Electric Institute aims to better identify opportunities for installation energy resilience and investment. (Photo Credit: COURTESY U.S. ARMY OFFICE OF ENERGY INITIATIVES) VIEW ORIGINAL

The energy industry is undergoing a fundamental change as the nation transitions to a clean energy future. This paradigm shift has created a once-in-a-generation opportunity to align interests and optimize utility investments well into the next decade. It also is a prime motivation to modernize business practices and lead efforts to develop innovative business models to respond rapidly to these new initiatives for the installation community. In other words, the time is now.

In May 2021, the U.S. Army was afforded an excellent opportunity to execute a Memorandum of Understanding with the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) to further enhance what has been a productive existing relationship. The agreement outlines specific efforts to collaborate and identify best practices for joint resilience planning and to optimize potential future investment opportunities by electric companies and the Army.

This new, innovative, and collaborative approach will enable readiness by helping achieve resilient, efficient, and affordable energy across our installations.

AN INCREASING THREAT

For many years, the Army has worked closely with investor-owned electric companies to pursue energy resilience. Army leadership and senior executives in electric companies meet several times a year to review progress, share lessons learned, and improve business processes. In June 2021, the Army Office of Energy Initiatives participated in the EEI CEO Task Force on Military Resilience. We presented our vision for installation energy and water infrastructure supporting critical missions in the Strategic Support Area to be resilient, efficient, and affordable as outlined in the Army Installation Energy & Water Strategic Plan.

Follow-up discussions focused on threats and vulnerabilities for our energy systems and how closer collaboration may result in better solutions for everyone. Increasingly, the nation’s electric system is affected by threats from adversaries and extreme weather and climate change. Such events can have cascading impacts on other critical sectors. There is a clear upward trend in the occurrence of impacts to the Army from wildfires, tornados, and recently, Winter Storm Uri and the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack. The Army must be able to accomplish its mission in a world defined by uncertain, adverse, and dynamic conditions. Our installations and surrounding communities must be equipped with energy and water capabilities that can withstand these events and recover quickly from a range of disruptions.

Energy and water resilience is a key enabler of mission readiness. To help meet energy resilience requirements, installations are engaging their serving electric companies to assess electrical grid vulnerabilities and infrastructure investments that may impact mission operations. The Army is also pursuing “inside the fence-line” solutions to ensure it can sustain critical missions by being capable of withstanding an extended utility outage. When the duration of the critical mission or missions has not been stipulated, the Army will plan to sustain energy and water for a minimum of 14 days.

SEIZING OPPORTUNITIES

Through collaboration with EEI, it became evident there was an opportunity to improve and refine planning processes to further develop resilience solutions. With electric companies and the Army engaged in deeper dialogues on energy resilience, investments that were already being made by the electric company resulted in projects that were beneficial to all. For example, Hawaiian Electric needed an additional generation to serve all its customers on Oahu, while Schofield Barracks needed more energy resilience. In 2016, the Army and Hawaiian Electric signed a lease that allowed the electric company to build a 50-MW generation plant on hard-to-obtain Hawaiian land. In return for the land, Schofield Barracks receives “inside-the-fence” power to run its missions during sustained electrical outages. Without the advance planning, the power plant would likely have been built somewhere else on Oahu at additional cost to the utility and without providing resilience to the installation.

Traditional planning practices, often lasting years, cannot keep up with today’s fast-paced environment. New paradigms, as illustrated in Hawaii, are needed to share information much earlier, as project concepts are created. However, there are institutional barriers to sharing this information. A balance has to be found between what is needed and what must be protected. Often, though, stakeholders are not sure what information is actually necessary. Mission owners have to limit the need to know. Due to security concerns, electric company engineers do not normally reveal vulnerabilities to outsiders. In many instances, even the information we shared a few years ago is now required to be protected, sometimes classified.

Joint Working Group. Seeing how EEI and the Army’s interests align and recognizing the need to overcome barriers, the utility took the lead to establish a joint working group. This working group will develop best practices intended for all-electric companies and Army installations to facilitate dialogue and coordinate actions to identify potential investment opportunities or other initiatives for improving the reliability and resilience of the electric service. This led to the execution of the Memorandum of Understanding in May 2021. The Office of Energy Initiatives is the Army’s lead proponent for the effort.

To kickstart the initiative, Dominion Energy will lead a pilot energy resilience program at Fort Belvoir, Va. Dominion serves as both the electric distribution utility and the privatized utility contractor for the installation. This offer was enthusiastically accepted by the garrison commander and Directorate of Public Works, and endorsed by the Installation Management Command Sustainment Directorate.

Fort Belvoir is an ideal installation for the pilot as it hosts a diverse mix of missions. Its location in the Washington, D.C., metroplex presents many challenges to ensure reliable service while transitioning away from carbon energy resources. Dominion’s experience operating both the distribution grid and the Fort Belvoir grid will provide unique perspectives on energy resilience.

Work is already underway on an initial draft of recommendations and best practices that will be finalized in 2022. Currently, the main effort is to identify the capabilities that would be needed in an extended electricity outage. Achieving this in an unclassified environment, while ensuring teams have enough information to develop an optimal set of resilient energy options, is challenging. The teams are working with mission owners to consider a new approach to backup generation in order to meet each installation’s critical requirements. Additionally, they are reviewing the grid capabilities and gaps, the changes that may occur as Virginia transitions to clean energy, and where investments may be needed to improve the resilience of the grid supporting the installation.

Pilot Program Lessons. As expected in a pilot program, the focus is on learning from, and working in concert with, the participants. The teams currently are identifying key communication constraints and developing recommendations to address them. They also will identify opportunities where they can align common energy resiliency goals and initiatives of the Army to serve electric companies and nearby communities and to create best practices for joint short-, mid-, and long-term planning that optimize potential future investments for grid resilience, community resilience, and national security interests. The team then will coordinate findings with stakeholders and seek guidance from the CEO Task Force on Military Energy Resilience as well as from Army leadership.

The Army frequently meets with utility regulators that are key external partners for the success of this concept and participates in information exchanges and other meetings as an associate member of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

The work to develop a best practices guide will help to effectively communicate the needs for shared resilience.

ADAPTING TO CHANGE

Parts, people, and fuel cannot be taken for granted. Adversaries understand these vulnerabilities. The recent storms across the nation have demonstrated it is no longer acceptable to assume that “someone will show up with a fuel truck tomorrow.”

As our nation prepares to undergo a massive change across the energy sector, the Army is quickly adapting and responding to changing requirements and evolving capabilities. Through this collaborative effort and engagement with utility partners, our installations will remain resilient and ready.

A recently executed Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Army and Edison Electric Institute will aid in ongoing efforts to identify capability gaps and develop strategies that ensure energy resilience for both installations and local communities during grid outages.

J.E. “Jack” Surash, P.E., SES, M.SAME, is Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy & Environment; john.e.surash.civ@army.mil.

David Irwin, P.E., M.SAME, is Project Development Director, U.S. Army Office of Energy Initiatives; david.j.irwin22.civ@army.mil.

[This article was first published in the March-April 2022 issue of The Military Engineer.]

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