By Geoff Fein

While the nation looks for ways to cope with oil prices far above last year’s prices, the Navy has been quietly developing a number of alternative energy sources as the service deals with fuel costs of $170 a barrel.

Among the projects underway at shore facilities are wind farms and efforts to take advantage of river and ocean currents and waves to generate power, Howard Snow, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy installations & facilities, told Defense Daily in a recent interview.

The Navy has wind farms at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and on San Clemente Island. The Navy is also beginning a wind farm project at Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif.

"When I first came into this office one of the questions I asked was how do you know where to plant those? That led to another concept with the Naval Post Graduate School," Snow said. "We are kind of using them as a think tank."

A Ph.D. candidate at the Naval Post Graduate School was going to study wind across the country, Snow said. "So we focused him to study wind across naval installations. That way, he could become a Ph.D. and we get something from his research."

"So we’ll know in the future, very quickly here, where to put those wind farms exactly. Are there other places we can put them," he asked.

For example, could wind farms be built out at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev., Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division China Lake, Calif., or Naval Support Activity Mid-South, Millington, Tenn., Snow said. "We don’t know. So we have him out there doing the research for us. Where should the next wind farm go?"

Some sites are easy to figure out if they are good locations for wind farms, for example, San Clemente Island. "But is there some particular valley in Fallon or China Lake or Twentynine Palms where we could do the same thing? Is Crane, Ind., a good place? Where could we put it? We are actually putting the science behind it…the method to the madness, if you will."

Besides providing electricity to a base, another advantage a wind farm brings is that the Navy could sell excess power back to the local power grid, Snow said. "Say a base is only using 3 MW and the wind farm is producing 5 MW. [We] can sell the difference back to the grid."

Snow also believes that once others see what the Navy is doing, it will lead to similar efforts on the civilian side.

"As we explore and experiment with these and get them online, people can look over the fence and say ‘hey, that’s a good idea.’ They can use the same companies that we helped jump start and do it on a larger scale…do it on the civilian side," he said.

The wind farm at San Clemente Island was built under an initial investment of $1.9 million in 1998, according to the Department of Energy (DoE). The turbines have resulted in a fuel savings projected to be more than $160,000 annually, according to DoE.

In past years, investment in renewable energy was made primarily using private sector financing programs such as Energy Savings Performance Contracts, Utility Energy Service Contracts and public private ventures, Snow said. From these programs, $25 million in private sector funds and $4 million in Department of Defense and Navy funds were invested in renewable energy projects, he added.

"Beginning in FY ’08, the department opted to invest all of its $20 million a year Energy Conservation Investment Program (ECIP) funds in renewable energy projects. This investment will continue in FY ’09 and will increase if Congress increases the appropriations for this MILCON (Military Construction) scope program," Snow said.

"The Navy invests $5 million to $10 million a year in managing operations of the geothermal plant at NAWS China Lake, exploration of additional geothermal resources, construction of solar car ports and roofs, and wind anemometer studies to prove resources on [Navy] land for future wind energy developments," he added.

One of Snow’s favorite projects entails placing three generators with blades on the bed of the East River.

"I call it a farm. They took some generators with blades and dropped them into the East River. The East River has an incredible current on it," he said.

Once the project was up and running, Snow said he got a call from the folks working the program. "They called me and said, ‘you’re right…it works.’ They called me back an hour later and said, ‘it doesn’t work.’"

The generators and blades were burned out, Snow added.

"They got burned out because the current is powerful," he said.

He told the team they needed a bigger generator and bigger blades. "We are doing that with the University of Oregon. We are going to drop it back in the river pretty soon."

If the project bears fruit, Snow could see similar technologies being placed on the bed of the Snake River, the Columbia River and the bottom of the Mississippi River.

"[The] current goes across blades and turns the generators to produce energy. You just need to run a line up to the shoreline and plug it into the system," he said. "You can imagine, five, six, 10 of these, it could even be 100 depending upon what the traffic is on the surface, and you could have a nice little farm down there. The river is constantly flowing so you are constantly producing energy."

Even buoys are chipping in to help provide power, Snow noted.

"We have buoys that actually oscillate. We are doing this off Hawaii. We are actually in Phase II of this project. With that constant motion of the ocean you have the oscillation. As the waves go back and forth you have this thing oscillating," he said. "They might be big steel things with bells on them so you know which way to go in the channel, but at the same time we might be able to get a few kilowatts out of that every hour."

Other ideas involve expanding on alternative energy efforts already in place. For example, the Navy has several sites using geothermal energy for power. Transmission lines to carry electricity are already in place, Snow said. Now the Navy is exploring if there are ways to place solar arrays around the transmission sites to be able to tie into those power lines too.

Texas oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens has been talking about building wind farms in North and South Dakota and Nebraska, but Snow points out there are few transmissions lines out there.

"All the wind is there but how are you going to get it to market so to speak," he said. "We are being smart about where we look. Bases already have transmission lines. Granted there has to be little conversion, but the right of way is there, and we can tie in or upgrade them."

China Lake is already producing geothermal energy, so there are trunk lines there, Snow said. "Let’s put solar arrays around and tie into the same trunk line so it doesn’t cost us much…we are not reinventing the wheel."