Sub base putting energy into conservation efforts, hosting industry leaders

Groton - Having just half of the lights lit in one of the Naval Submarine Base's three gymnasiums Monday morning might seem unremarkable, especially considering the natural light streaming in through the row of windows along the high ceiling.

But new lighting in place at all three gyms is an important example of one of the ways the 98-year-old sub base has embraced ambitious goals for reducing energy use and reliance on fossil fuels.

"We finished replacing all the old lights with LED lights in all three gymnasiums late last summer, and we've already saved $39,000 in electricity alone," said Capt. Carl Lahti, commanding officer of the base, as teams of sailors shot, passed and dribbled in two pick-up basketball games that morning. The project, which cost about $180,000, included automatic sensors that vary the intensity of the lights with usage and natural light conditions, and will soon extend to replacement of streetlights around the base with light emitting diode, or LED, fixtures.

"We've already seen a 30 percent reduction in our (basewide) energy use from 2005 to today," Lahti said, adding that other projects have included insulating old buildings, fixing leaks in the steam heating system and working on "behavior change" - what he calls "the hard part" - to foster conscientious and frugal use of energy use by officers, enlisted and civilian personnel. The various projects, Lahti said, have already saved the base millions of dollars in utility costs.

Today, the base will continue its energy initiative when it hosts about 25 national, regional and local energy industry representatives for Energy Industry Day. The event was organized by base leaders to solicit suggestions about how to accomplish the next big goal for the base's energy use, which ranges from 15 to 18 megawatts at any given time. During the event, the industry representatives will be led on a tour of the 687-acre property to better understand the variety of structures, the topography and open areas where wind, solar, fuel cell and other types of alternative energy equipment could be located.

"Industry will get a chance to hear about our goals and visions, and offer us some ideas," Lahti said. "We're probably looking at doing a combination of wind and solar and fuel cells. But maybe there's something out there we don't know about."

Information gathered by the Navy during today's event will be used to develop a plan for creating a microgrid at the base that would draw power from on-site alternative energy sources. Lahti said the design is scheduled for completion this fall, and a contract to build the microgrid would be awarded in the spring. The state will provide about $3 million to help fund the project.

The motivation for reducing energy use and reliance on fossil fuels at the base, Lahti explained, comes from goals set by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. Navy installations nationwide and abroad are being challenged to retool their facilities so that they fill at least half of their energy needs with on-site alternative energy sources by 2020, as well as improve efficiency. Doing so, according to Mabus, will make the Navy more effective in filling its mission and less vulnerable to disruptions in supplies of fossil fuels.

"By 2015, there will be 500 megawatts of renewable energy projects done or under construction Navywide," Lahti said.

Another facet of the energy initiative at the base is a $17 million project with Groton Utilities, which supplies electricity to the base, that will entail audits of energy use of base facilities, as well as design and construction of improvements to heating, cooling and other systems to improve efficiency. The microgrid that will be built, Lahti explained, would work both in tandem with and as a backup for the local utility's supply, providing a portion of the base's power needs on a daily basis that would continue to be available if a storm or other event knocked out service from Groton Utilities. Automated controls and switching to coordinate the two systems would be included in the microgrid.

"We want to improve reliability and redundancy, and overall reduce the cost of electricity," Lahti said.
Twitter: @bensonjudy

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