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Renewables hybrid for Fort Hood

Apex Clean Energy recently completed the largest renewable energy project serving the U.S. Army, at Fort Hood, Texas-and it's the Army's first hybrid renewable project, drawing wind power from the Cotton Plains Wind project in Floyd County, Texas, and sol

By Diane Mettler

Most people don't think of the U.S. Army when they think of renewable energy—but that is about to change.

In April 2017, the U.S. Army officially began receiving renewable energy from its largest renewable energy project in Texas—and it's the first hybrid renewable project to serve the Army.

Apex Clean Energy (Apex) developed, managed construction of, and operates the groundbreaking hybrid wind and solar complex, which provides more than 50 percent of the annual load at the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Hood.

The projects consist of a 15.4-megawatt (MW) AC behind-the-meter solar farm (Phantom Solar) and a 50.4-megawatt wind facility (Cotton Plains Wind, about 300 miles from Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas). Combined, the two represent approximately seven percent of the Army's goal to reach a gigawatt of renewable energy by 2025—enough energy to power 51,000 average U.S. homes.

Melissa Peterson, Apex's director of business development, says there were a couple of unique features about this project. First, the RFP included a blended rate for both the solar and wind power. "The RFP required us to physically deliver that power from those different locations to the base. And we had to meet a blended cost of the wind and solar below a threshold of $50 a megawatt hour."

The second unique aspect was that the RFP included providing Fort Hood 100 percent of their electricity through Apex subsidiary ACE Power, says Peterson. "About 50 percent of that electricity is from these two renewable energy projects, and the remaining 50 percent is conventional energy that's purchased off the grid." Via ACE Power, Apex Clean Energy is now the retail electricity provider for Fort Hood.

Apex began procuring and delivering Fort Hood's energy January 1, 2017, and the renewable energy projects went operational in April 2017.

Peterson says another unique aspect of the project is the long-term contract with the government—28 years. It's the longest contract Apex has ever entered into and because of its length, the hybrid project will be able to save the Army—and taxpayers—an estimated $168 million in direct energy costs over the life of the project.

 
  

"Utilities' contracts typically last around 20 years, and contracts for corporate customers usually hover around 15," says Peterson. "However, the government has different purchasing requirements that they can use. To save the most amount of money possible over the life of the contract, they wanted to do the longest term possible, and 28 was the maximum contracting authority that they had under existing legislation."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designated the 215 acres that would hold the solar farm on the Fort Hood property. For the wind farm, the only condition was that it be located anywhere in ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) territory.

"Apex Clean Energy has a large portfolio—over 12 gigawatts of project sites located across the country—in various stages of development," says Peterson. "This enables us to find the right project and product for the customer; in this case, the U.S. Army. We already had this site in development when we bid it into the RFP."

As it turned out, the wind farm was already being developed and many hurdles had been dealt with.

"The site is zoned for agricultural use and is located in a very supportive community, Floyd County, Texas," says Peterson. "We have a great relationship with the landowners and the local community there, so it was an easy site to build on."

However, the construction of the solar facility, on the largest active-duty armored post in the U.S., required serious coordination and planning.

For example, Peterson says, "All personnel had to be vetted by Fort Hood, and all incoming delivery trucks secured prior to entering the post."

 
 The U.S. Military is going to be in the renewable energy market for some time to come. The Fort Hood wind/solar project is seen by both the U.S. Army and Apex Clean Energy as a success-so much so that Apex is actively engaged with the Department of Defense on future projects.
  

Apex Clean Energy also had to acquire special permission to bring project and worker vehicles on to restricted Fort Hood roadways. When working on the generation interconnection agreement, Apex had to create a hybrid protection scheme to prevent any backfeed onto the ONCOR system (a regulated electric utility that operates the largest distribution and transmission system in Texas).

"We also implemented an enhanced cyber security plan and notable hardware and software improvements to our remote operations control center (ROCC), to provide the asset management services for the on-base Phantom Solar project," says Peterson.

"The military considers renewable energy especially important because it allows them to provide energy security and energy independence for our nation," adds Peterson. "To that end, the design we created included microgrid-ready capabilities, providing the ultimate energy security and independence from the grid as necessary."

With two large projects, came a lot of equipment, including;

  • 21 GE 2.4 MW turbines
  • 63,000 Canadian Solar 315 W and 320 W solar modules
  • 7 SMA 2.2 MW inverters
  • NEXTrackers single-access trackers

Fagen Inc. was the balance-of-plant contractor on the wind project, and Phoenix Solar Inc. led construction of the solar component.

Construction took place throughout most of 2016, and a number of local contractors were used to make it all happen: Paul's Electric Co., out of Killeen, provided electrical equipment operation support; American Paratus provided site security; Brushmasters cleared the site; and Barron Environmental Services & Technology provided environmental services and storm water protection activities.

 
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designated the 215 acres where the solar farm would be located on Fort Hood property. For the wind farm, the only condition was that it be located anywhere in ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) territory. 
  

Apex is managing both facilities out of their ROCC, which is a 24/7 operations control center in Charlottesville, Virginia. "We currently manage over 1750 megawatts of clean energy in the ROCC. Those twelve projects are spread throughout North America," says Peterson.

Apex is constantly working on acquisition opportunities to buy earlier-stage development projects, as well as greenfield opportunities across the U.S.

As mentioned, Apex currently has a 12-gigawatt portfolio in various stages of development. "We employ around 230 people with about 50 developers working on our portfolio to get these projects fully developed and de-risked so that we can take them to market to sell," says Peterson.

"The energy landscape is really changing," she adds. "We're seeing not just the traditional utilities purchasing renewable energy, but we're also seeing a lot of corporate customers who—because of their sustainability goals—have started to change the landscape of the whole energy market by procuring renewable energy.

"It's been led by companies like Amazon and Google, but we're starting to see a lot more deals with small companies as well, like Avery Dennison and Steelcase and others who have sustainability goals and feel it's important, a part of their company's mission, to purchase renewable energy."

 
  

Apex is also seeing more smaller buyers. "Corporate and industrial customers, who have sustainability goals and want to purchase renewable energy but don't have a very large load. We have worked diligently to create aggregation opportunities," says Peterson. "A utility-scale project, for example, might be 300 megawatts, but it might have two or three or four or five different off-takers. So Apex has done a lot of that self-aggregation, meaning we've got large projects and will bring a lot of different buyers into the project."

All of this is in part because the price of renewable energy has come down over the last several years and is becoming more cost competitive. "Many utilities also see this opportunity to lock-in very low-cost, reliable power for the next 20 years. They're realizing that they want to get on board with more clean energy," says Peterson.

Although the Fort Hood project's power generation was all located in ERCOT, that is not necessarily what all customers are looking for, says Peterson.

"We're seeing some buyers who want renewable projects located very close to their facilities. But others take a different approach and look at their global consumption, or maybe their national consumption, and they just want to offset that by purchasing renewable power from a facility that might be the most cost-effective option.

"In some cases, their load might not be located in the lowest cost energy market. For example, we may have a large customer in New York City who has a very large load. But since they can't purchase much renewable energy near New York City, they might look at Oklahoma or Texas, where they can buy enough power to offset their load, at a price that's much more competitive."

The military is going to be in the renewable market for some time to come. The Fort Hood project is seen by both the U.S. Army and Apex as a success—so much so that Apex is actively engaged with the Department of Defense on future projects.

"This was a really big first step for them in moving toward more projects that are not only clean energy, but also provide energy resiliency and energy security for them," says Peterson.

Today, both the army and the air force have created offices focused specifically on procuring renewable energy—the Army Office of Energy Initiative and the Air Force Office of Energy Assurance.

The offices are tasked with analyzing all of their installations across the U.S. and determining how to provide renewable energy to be more energy resilient and then provide more energy security.

In the end, Richard G Kidd IV, deputy security of the Army (Strategic Integration) sums up well the importance of this project. "The project will help sustain Fort Hood's vital missions, assure access to important resource supply, and bolster an already impressive portfolio of alternative and renewable energy projects in the Army.

"But most importantly, this project is a step toward energy security and resiliency, which underwrites the Army's unique ability to rapidly deploy, employ, and sustain military forces around the globe."

 


September/October 2017