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Guantanamo Harnessing Wind to Create Power, Cut Emissions

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, March 29, 2005 – Public works officials here are combining ancient and modern technologies to build cost savings into the base's energy program.

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Two of the wind turbines at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are seen from the base of the highest of the four new structures. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem
  

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Since earlier this year, four huge, white wind turbines have been standing guard over Guantanamo Bay from John Paul Jones Hill, the base's highest point, named for the Revolutionary War naval hero.

"This is the world's most ancient philosophy, combined with state-of-the-art technology," said Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey M. Johnston, the base's public works officer. "Harnessing the wind is arguably the first technical thing man ever did."

At 80 meters (262 feet) high, the four three-blade turbines are among the base's most noticeable features. But they're there for much more than just to improve the scenery. Base officials estimate the four turbines will provide as much as a quarter of the base's power generation during the high-wind months of late summer and fall.

Guantanamo Bay is unique in that the base is completely self-sustaining. Most U.S. military bases in the United States and overseas get their power and water from municipal sources. But Guantanamo Bay takes no power or water from Fidel Castro's Cuba.

"This is the last of the great independent military installations," Johnston said. "That's not to say that all installations should go back to 'independent steaming.' It makes a lot of sense to use tax dollars to regionalize. ... It just doesn't work here."

Before the wind turbines, Guantanamo Bay spent $31,000 a day -- $24 a minute -- on diesel fuel to run generators around the clock to produce electricity. Since the turbines went into operation about six weeks ago, they have been providing between 5 and 12 percent of the power the base uses.

Johnston noted that spring is the "slack-wind period" and that the turbines would be able to produce more power by July.

In a fortuitous coincidence, the time of day with the highest average winds is right during the base's peak energy-usage period -- about 4 p.m., Johnston said. "By fortunate happenstance, we are expecting that when our loads are largest, our wind power will also be the largest," he said.

In addition to generating power, the turbines have significantly cut down on emissions of greenhouse gases created through burning diesel fuel. Black clouds containing carbon dioxide can routinely be seen pouring from the diesel generators supplying power to the base's energy grid. Johnston said using the wind turbines would have the same effect as taking 2,500 cars off Guantanamo Bay's roads for a year - that's fairly significant for an installation with a total population of about 10,000 people.

Each turbine is anchored in "a giant, swimming pool-sized block of concrete, through which 22 soil anchors are drilled into the mountain," Johnston said. He explained that the soil anchors are sunk 30 to 40 feet deep, then sealed with grout. "So they are essentially nailed to the mountain," he said of the turbines.

They're rated to withstand winds up to 140 miles per hour -equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane. "If we get to the point where those blow down, that will be the least of our worries," Johnston said. "Because the rest of the base will probably be floating to Jamaica."

The turbines are completely automated in their functioning. Each independently senses the wind direction, turns into the wind, and controls the pitch of the blades. If they "chase the wind" and get to four full rotations, they'll shut themselves down to unwind, Johnston said.

The turbines were funded through an "energy performance savings contract" with Noresco, a Massachusetts company specializing in "energy solutions." Through this contract, the Navy provided no up-front funds. Noresco funded the turbines, and the base will repay the company out of cost savings over about a 12-year period.

The base also is realizing other cost-saving improvements through the same contract. Officials are working with Noresco to replace two older diesel generators with two spanking-new models that will run more efficiently, further reduce emissions and "generate enormous maintenance reductions," Johnston explained.

Also through this contract, base officials are improving the energy-distribution system. Before recent upgrades, Guantanamo Bay's energy-distribution system was set up like dominoes, Johnston said. When a problem occurred somewhere along the line, it tripped the power on the entire base.

"The base would lose power fence line to fence line on a fairly regular basis," he said. He added that buzzards and Mylar balloons often get caught in power lines and cause failures. "They get caught up in the lines, and the dominoes start toppling, and the whole base is dark," he said.

A new, "more robust" system helps control outages and limits them to specific areas. "Buzzards are still there; balloons are still there," Johnston said. "But now we have neighborhoods going down as opposed to the whole base going down."

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U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay

Click photo for screen-resolution imageEach windmill stands 80 meters (262 feet) high. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageFour brand new windmills now dominate the skyline above Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem  
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