Fairbanks News-Miner (Alaska) - by Dermot Cole
A federal plan to spend nearly $15 million on three wind projects at remote military radar sites on the Alaska coast is hitting the fan.
The Inspector General of the Department of Defense has issued a report saying the projects have been poorly planned. One should be canceled and the other two need more work as they are facing $1 million cost overruns, the independent agency recommends.
There have been "multiple turnovers in project managers and a file server migration that resulted in the loss of several project files," the report concludes.
The wind power plan was to provide energy for Air Force radar sites at Cape Lisburne, Cape Newenham and Cape Romanzof.
One problem is that the prototype project has been anything but smooth sailing, according to the federal report. Nearly nine years ago the 611th Civil Engineer Squadron at Elemendorf selected Tin City, a radar station on the Seward Peninsula, as a test site to see how wind power might be used to cut energy costs.
The Air Force signed a contract in 2007 and construction was completed in 2008 at the facility, on a remote and windy site about 600 miles west of Fairbanks.
But the $2 million prototype doesn't work because the project managers didn't know enough about the local wind conditions, the report says.
"Completing a wind study would have provided 611th CES personnel the information necessary to determine the most advantageous location at which to build the turbine. Because 611th CES personnel did not complete a wind study at Tin City before construction, the turbine is located in an area with turbulent winds, and therefore, according to 611th CES personnel, produces sporadic, unusable power," the investigators said.
Two years ago the contract was expanded by $485,000 to correct the problems at Tin City by the end of 2010. But the winds are erratic and tests haven't been finished.
"As of July 29, 2011, the wind turbine was still not operational and continued to incur costs. DoD cannot quantify actual cost savings generated from the wind turbine until the contractor completes all modifications to power production and 611th CES personnel measure overall operational performance."
In a 2008 press release, which I have included below, the Air Force said extensive wind tests had been undertaken. The turbine is 110 feet high and the blades are 44 feet long.
The Air Force has proposed canceling the contract to build a turbine at Cape Newenham, a decision backed by Inspector General, the federal office assigned to conduct independent investigations of government projects.
But the auditors say more study is needed at the other two other sites. There are expecting cost overruns of more than $1 million on each project, pushing the total to $5.7 million apiece.
The "documentation provided by the Air Force does not fully support completing the wind turbine projects at Cape Lisburne and Cape Romanzof," the report says.
Here is the conclusion of the report:
Personnel at the 611
CES did not ensure that the three wind turbine projects were properly planned and supported. As a result, DoD cannot ensure that the three wind turbine projects are viable, that DUSD (I&E) personnel appropriately selected the projects for Recovery Act funding, and that Recovery Act funds were appropriately used.
We fully support renewable energy projects; however, executing the Recovery Act projects at Cape Lisburne, Cape Newenham, and Cape Romanzof LRRSs may not be compliant with Federal, DoD, and Recovery Act guidance. Without documented support for the potential investment costs, and energy and non-energy savings on the LCC analyses, DoD cannot ensure whether the calculations were correct, whether the discounted payback periods and SIRs met the minimum DoD criteria, and that DUSD (I&E) personnel appropriately selected the projects for Recovery Act funding.
Although it may be appropriate to use Recovery Act funds for conducting wind studies to determine the viability of future wind turbine projects at Alaska LRRSs, the projects were not shovel-ready and may be cost-ineffective. 611th CES personnel should revalidate the SIRs and payback periods of the projects. DUSD (I&E) should consider the results of the revalidations, results of the wind studies, and potential costs of alternatives considered such as termination costs, to determine the best course of action for the construction portion of the wind turbine contract.
In October 2008, the Air Force issued this press release on the Tin City project:
In an effort to reduce high operating costs at the Tin City Long Range Radar Station, engineers with the 611th Civil Engineer Squadron here have completed the construction of a wind turbine generator there. It is the first such generator to be installed on an Alaskan Air Force installation and within Pacific Air Forces.
The construction at the remote site, located on the Alaska coast near the town of Tin City, was funded by an award of $1.9 million through the Energy Conservation Investment Program, a Department of Defense military construction initiative.
The ECIP is specifically designed for projects that save energy or reduce defense energy costs. The wind turbine generator will augment the diesel-fueled power production system at Tin City, making it a wind-diesel hybrid.
"I'm very excited about the Tin City wind turbine energy project," said Col. Brent Johnson, 611th Air Support Group commander. This important milestone for the 611th Air Support Group will be the first renewable Air Force energy project in Alaska and is very timely, given the cost of fuel. Wind energy at Tin City should decrease our annual fuel consumption by 30 to 35 percent, about 85,000 gallons.
The radar site currently is powered by diesel generators. It is located at Cape Prince of Wales on the westernmost point of the North American mainland, on the western tip of the Seward Peninsula in the Bering Sea, approximately 700 miles northwest of Anchorage and approximately 600 miles west of Fairbanks.
The prevailing winds on the western coast of Alaska put the area in a class seven wind power density zone, the highest possible category. Wind power density is a useful way to evaluate the wind resource available at a site. The WPD indicates how much energy is available at the site for conversion by a wind turbine.
After extensive wind strength and reliability testing, it was determined that Tin City would be the ideal place for a single tower to test the real-world application of wind generation at remote radar stations. During the testing, sustained wind of 83 miles per hour, which is equivalent to a Category 1 hurricane, were experienced. However, according to 611th CES engineers, the average wind speed at Tin City is about 19 miles per hour.
"That's separate from the maximum sustained wind speed experienced, which was 83 miles per hour," said Tony Alecci, 611th CES energy management chief. "Not saying it's 83 miles per hour often, but it illustrates the extreme conditions at the site."
A potential annual energy savings of $433,000 is estimated. The current digital control system, to accompany the tower, allows for more control of the existing diesel generators. This allows the site operators to completely shut down the diesel generators when the wind strength is sufficient to power the site. It allows for tailoring the diesel power production to complement the wind production, thus minimizing the fuel usage at the site. The resulting reduction in diesel generator run time is estimated to save $10,000 in reduced maintenance costs annually.
In order to harness the available wind, there were a number of challenges. The first was the amount of icing that coastal sites experience, with Tin City being the worst.
The construction and installation contractor, Tanadgusix Corporation has extensive experience with cold weather wind generation from their St. Paul Island, Alaska, wind turbines. Together with the engineers from the 611th CES, a cutting-edge cold weather package was developed to meet the unique needs of such a harsh environment.
The foundation of the package is an electric based heat system that blows warm air up the tower base and through the tips of the turbine blades to shed the expected icing load.
In addition to icing issues, airfield safety, radar interference and migratory bird strike issues needed to be addressed. Through working with the FAA and the use of Avian studies, potential tower locations were identified that would provide for negligible impacts on any of the three challenges.
"The 611th Air Support Group is working smarter," said Lt. Col. Charles Busch, former 611th Civil Engineer Squadron commander. "With the installation of the wind turbine at Tin City, we are using proven, commercial, off-the-shelf technology. Similar turbine units are in use at Nikolski, Sand Point and St. Paul Island, Alaska. Wind turbines are not new to the U.S. Air Force, but they are new to Pacific Air Forces and 11th Air Force in Alaska."
With the reduction in fuel consumption, Colonel Busch said the return on investment should be realized within about four and a half years.
"We have several other wind turbine projects scheduled," said Colonel Busch. "The 611th CES is currently pursuing wind turbines at Cape Lisburne, Cape Romonzof and Cape Newenham. Engineering work is also taking place to judge the suitability of wind power generation at Eareckson Air Station."
By presidential order, federal agencies must improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by three percent annually through the end of fiscal 2015, and, to the extent feasible, implement renewable energy generation projects on agency property for agency use.
"The 611th continues to work aggressively toward meeting the presidential energy goals," said Colonel Busch.