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US Energy Dept. Likes Coal But Indiana Nat’l Guard Loves Renewable Energy

Rick Perry proposes new protections for coal and nuclear power plants, but the national defense community is moving steadily toward renewable energy.

File this one under “L” for “Lalalalala we can’t hear you.” Barely a month after Energy Secretary Rick Perry proposed new measures supporting large, centralized coal-fired and nuclear power plants, the Indiana National Guard made a huge, 5-megawatt solar powered statement in support of microgrids, renewable energy, and distributed energy generation. The new installation will go to support the Guard’s Atterbury training center in Johnson County, Indiana.

Adding to the intrigue, the developer of the project is one of the nation’s biggest coal-consuming power companies, Duke Energy. That makes Perry’s proposals all the more, well, weird.

More Renewable Energy For National Defense

The choice of Camp Atterbury for a major renewable energy installation is significant. It dates back to the  World War II buildup and it is still tasked with mobilizing forces. Along with its sister facility Muscatatuck, that includes domestic emergency rescue training as well as overseas missions, including urban combat.

The two facilities are also involved in preserving several endangered and at-risk bat species in the region, so there’s that.

The new solar installation includes battery storage and solar arrays at Camp Atterbury, with additional storage equipment at a substation offsite.

The project is still awaiting approval, but if all goes well, it will be the first microgrid for the Indiana National Guard.

Duke is already anticipating that this will be the first of many renewable energy and microgrid projects in its stable, according to the company’s Indiana president Melody Birmingham-Byrd:

Given our recent success with the installation of a 17-megawatt solar power plant at Naval Support Activity Crane, we were eager to find another opportunity to join with the U.S. military to incorporate new technology into our grid operations. The project at Camp Atterbury will help us gain valuable operating experience and may help determine how best to expand the new technology to other areas.

As for the reliability issue, Col. John Silva, Camp Atterbury’s commanding officer, laid that one to rest:

This proposed project will increase our strategic value and give us the ability to continue our mission-critical operations in the unlikely event of a large grid outage.


Energy Companies Are Shifting Out Of Coal

The emphasis on renewable energy is quite a switcheroo for Duke. In 2015, one study ranked it as one of the top two most-polluting energy companies in the US.

In that same year, though, Duke added 300 megawatts to North Carolina’s solar portfolio, and it partnered in the development of a new energy storage facility on the site of a retired coal plant.

Duke has assembled an impressive renewable energy portfolio in recent years. Here’s the company tooting its horn:

Duke Energy is a national leader in energy storage research and development, having deployed approximately 40 megawatts of energy storage capacity, representing 15 national projects demonstrating 10 different grid applications and functions and eight different battery chemistries.

The company also recently announced new plans for doubling down on solar power in Florida.

What Now, Rick Perry?

For those of you new to the dust-up over Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposals, they derive from a new grid study he ordered last spring, which seemed front-loaded in favor of conventional coal and nuclear power plants. The final study does come down on the side of renewable energy and microgrids, but with just enough wiggle room for Perry to propose new protections for large coal and nuclear plants.

Duke still has 14 coal and 6 nuclear power plants in its stable, but it also has a big hand in natural gas development, and that’s where things get interesting.

On an industry-wide basis, power companies are not particularly enamored with Perry’s proposals. That’s not particularly on account of their commitment to renewable energy, though. Natural gas stakeholders came out in force against Perry’s grid study when it was still under way, arguing that gas is a more flexible, efficient fit with renewables and distributed energy generation.

As for nuclear energy, Duke is also joining the rush out the door. Perry or no Perry, it’s not likely that the company’s six remaining plants will have any company soon.

Photo (screenshot): via Camp Atterbury.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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