by Ryan Labadens, U.S. Navy Public Affairs

It has been three years since the completion of the 4.2 megawatt (MW) direct current solar facility onboard the Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC) Gulfport, Miss.

Along with the new microgrid currently under construction on base, the solar facility can help provide electricity to critical buildings and infrastructure on base should power go down across the installation and in the surrounding Gulfport area. This capability fits in with the U.S. Navy’s energy strategy known as the Three Pillars of Energy Security – Reliability, Resiliency and Efficiency – an initiative that seeks to provide cost-effective, alternative energy sources and fuel diversity, and to increase Navy’s energy resiliency and security.

The solar facility was financed and built in 2017 by Hannah Solar, Mississippi Power’s developer, and is owned and operated by WGL Energy; the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the facility took place on base July 11, 2017.

According to Chris Vignes, Mississippi Power public relations officer, Mississippi Power uses the facility to provide enough clean, renewable energy to deliver electricity to hundreds of homes in the Gulfport area.

“Based on a 1,000 kilowatt hour per month usage, the facility annually produces enough energy on average to provide electricity for 450 homes,” said Vignes. “The facility has generated 19,800 megawatt hours since its completion.”

In the event of a major disaster, such as a cataclysmic hurricane hitting the Mississippi Gulf Coast, NCBC gets the benefit of having the solar facility augment the microgrid currently being constructed on base, which can help supply power to certain mission-essential structures on board the installation, such as the fire station and the security building.

“The microgrid system will have the ability to provide three megawatts of combined solar and generator power to critical base facilities with an estimated run time of 48 hours, ensuring mission continuity in the event of an area-wide utility outage,” said Lt. Mandy Caffee, Public Works Department (PWD) Gulfport construction manager.

“So if Mississippi Power didn’t have power, and [the grid] is shut down off-base, then we will be on the microgrid, and the microgrid can offset diesel consumption by using solar power,” said Brian Nottingham, deputy public works officer for Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Southeast, PWD Gulfport.

Caffee noted the NCBC Gulfport microgrid is a $2.8M in-kind consideration project contracted through NAVFAC Headquarters Real Estate Contracting Office with Mississippi Power.

Power Secure, a sister company of Mississippi Power, began on-site construction of the microgrid on board NCBC in mid-March of 2020, and the project is expected to be completed later this summer.

The five diesel generators can supply 3.12 megawatts of power to the microgrid, which reduces the need for having separate generators at each essential facility.

“One of the big positives of the microgrid is that it will allow us to remove 11 dedicated facility generators. So that’s less emissions, which translates to better air quality,” said Nottingham, noting the environmental benefits of the microgrid.

In regards to the energy generated by the solar facility for Mississippi Power customers, Vignes said “solar is clean energy – so it does provide emission-free generation, and in the amount that it is providing, is estimated to avoid production of 3,000 tons of [carbon dioxide] annually.”

Capt. William Whitmire, NCBC Gulfport commanding officer, noted the importance of projects like the solar facility and microgrid both for the Navy in overall terms of energy security, and for the local NCBC and Mississippi Gulf Coast community.

“This was an initiative that demonstrated that it can be done, that the economics can support it… and that in areas where we can do it, it can produce a significant benefit to the operational readiness of the base,” said Whitmire. “This translates not only into our Navy being able to fight our nation’s wars, but also into the base’s ability to support the surrounding community after a natural disaster – and the first thing you want to be operational after a major hurricane here is the very base that has the Seabees on it, who can roll out of the gate and help the community get standing back on its own feet.”