Tuesday, August 9, 2011

GovEnergy 2011 Day 1: A River of Information

GovEnergy 2011 kicked off in Cincinnati this Monday with government, industry and academia in attendance. The morning pep rally featured senior folks from GSA, DOE, EPA and DOD. The theme was “A River of Solutions” and each speaker talked about the challenges facing their organizations. In every case the challenge was energy security and finding the business case that allowed the organization to justify investment in it. A gentleman from the City of Cincinnati explained that it is difficult to make the business case for renewables when the utility rate in his city is about 5 cents a kilowatt/hour. Damn that cheap, abundant coal, water and land!

One bit of good news up front. Dr. Robyn, the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment announced that she had been given the authority to approve long term contracts (up to 30 years) for power purchase agreements for all electrical energy sources (not just geothermal). Previously this authority had rested with the Secretary of Defense. We commented on this authority earlier.

There were no less than fifteen educational tracks running simultaneously. My head was spinning but I decided to follow the energy security track and the first session was déjà vu all over again. Billed as being anchored by MG Dana Pittard, CG, Fort Bliss, it was nearly the exact same panel that formed for the Army/Air Force Energy conference two weeks before. Messieurs Geiss, Kidd and Cotton (GE) brought good things to life. Geiss and Kidd were standing in for their respective General Officers who had been otherwise detained. 

A much appreciated addition to the panel was C.A. “Skip” Cofield from the Southern Company. The Southern Company owns four of the largest utilities in the southeast and if you are talking about reducing energy use or building renewables, you MUST engage the utilities early and often. Mr. Cofield gave a great adverting pitch for the Southern Company and their demonstrated ability to recover from disasters (Katrina, Alabama tornadoes, etc.), and also added a word to my meager vocabulary: Isochronous. In power generation, isochronous means that the frequency of the electricity generated is "flat" or constant. The term was used in reference to Warner Robbins AFB and their ability to continue operations when the commercial grid goes down. Warner Robbins has a Georgia Power-owned and operated facility on base that facilitates the transition, and WR can operate isochronously. I like the word, and what it signifies re: energy security capabilities.

Mr. Kidd of the Army noted that there does not exists a mutually agreed upon definition of Energy Security. One bright, enterprising employee of the U. S. Corps of Engineers rose during the Q&A to ask Mr. Kidd if we might, please, have a definition so that all the uncertainty about what is expected of the USACE and energy security could be removed. Mr. Kidd assured her that he would get right on it….by tasking the USACE for the definition. No good deed goes unpunished. Let me offer my own humble definition:
Energy Security is the assured access to mission critical energy at acceptable financial and environmental costs in an isochronous manner.
If you want levels of energy security, you can call them mission critical, mission essential and mission supportive. Assured access is about whose hand is on the lever allowing isochronous access to electricity. If it is the utility, it is not necessarily assured. If it is the commander, then it is. And acceptable financial and environmental costs will be determined on a case by case basis.

The military is a doctrine driven institution. Doctrine provides a common language, as is the case in other professions. If we are to have energy security, we must have a common understanding of what that means.

Mr. Kidd also announced (drum roll, please) that the largest energy security information effort ever launched, was, er, launched. Fort Bliss, Texas, in support of their Net Zero energy, water and waste effort, has released nine Requests for Information for multiple technologies. Bliss wants to know about waste to energy, wind (large and small), solar, geothermal, microgrids and more. 

Industry now has until early October to provide information to Fort Bliss. An army of evaluators is even now examining the documents to decide if their companies should take the next steps. Once the RFI responses are delivered, Team Bliss will use the information gathered to craft their Requests for Proposal. So, industry: dust off the responses sent into the Air Force Civil Engineering Agency for their RFIs, paint them green and send them west (or east for you Left Coasties). Also take a look at what the USACE has requested in their Sources Sought for Power Purchase Agreements. They should be mutually supporting.

Defining energy security and attaining it will be a long slog. The processes the Services are following are lengthy, but legitimate. As Jon Power of the Army likes to say, “We’ve got the Land, We’ve got the Demand”. The river of solutions flows through industry and the Department must be a good partner if we are to attain definable, demonstrable energy security for our installations and our nation. That means transparency, consistency and the ability to maintain the course. We are all in this for the long haul and we are all in it together. Dan Nolan