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Plant provides green energy, cost savings

24 Aug 2011 | Diane Durden

Many of us take for granted that our lights and computers will come on when we flip the switch. Or that hot water will pour from the faucet when we turn the knob. Rarely do we think about where the energy to power the lights or heat the water comes from.

For the Combat Center, a good portion of that energy is generated aboard the installation at the cogeneration plant. The 7.2-megawatt plant, along with the 1.2-megawatt photovoltaic solar array, provides nearly 60 percent of the Combat Center’s energy, with the remaining 40 percent provided by a local power company.

Cogeneration plants make efficient use of multiple resources. Natural gas, an environmentally-friendly fuel source, powers a single turbine plant to produces electricity.

The turbine also generates waste heat. The plant’s waste heat recovery system uses the thermal energy to provide the installation’s domestic hot water and provides comfort heat in buildings during the winter months. The high-temperature water is also used to power the chilled water plants aboard the Combat Center, which provide for all cooling needs throughout the installation.

The use of high-temperature water eliminates the need to fire up diesel-burning boilers and reduces additional electrical demands. Compared to purchased electrical power, and conventional boilers and air conditioners, it is estimated that cogeneration reduces greenhouse gas emissions by half.

The use of a single conventional boiler alone produces an equal amount of greenhouse gases as the entire cogeneration process does. The plant has already captured a significant cost savings for the Combat Center. The cost to generate our own power compared to purchasing it from an outside source saved the Combat Center more than $7 million last year.

“We strive to make as much energy as possible,” said Nate Snyder, project manager for Johnson Controls. “We want the government to have as much money as possible for other projects.”

The cost savings from the cogeneration plant have already been used to build chiller plants and the photovoltaic solar array. Future projects include replacing an additional five chiller plants with more efficient chillers. Providing fiscal savings and decreased environmental impact are important factors when evaluating the pros and cons of having the plant.

The Combat Center is located at the end of the commercial electrical distribution line and frequently experiences power outages. These outages can negatively affect Marine Corps training and mission readiness.

In the event of a power outage, the cogeneration plant is capable of providing 100 percent of the energy for the installation’s mission essential operations. Lowering the Combat Center’s carbon footprint and dependence on external energy sources, teamed with the significant cost savings and ability to maintain a reliable production of energy make the cogeneration plant a vital asset to the Combat Center, said Erin Adams, air resources manager, Natural Resources Environmental Affairs.

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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms