Congressional, Army leaders praise success of Fort Knox energy resiliency

Greg Lee (standing), Nolin RECC’s vice president of systems operations, watches the power grid monitor as Dustin Ward, Nolin RECC-Fort Knox operations manager, calls in the command to start powering down the grid Oct. 24, 2018. Photo by Eric Pilgrim | Fort Knox news

FORT KNOX, Ky. — Congressional, Army and Fort Knox leaders are calling the installation’s energy resilience test on October 24 a huge success.

Prior to this most recent test, Fort Knox engineers had performed several smaller shutdown tests to the post’s individual substations. A handful of other installations have also attempted smaller shutdowns.

For the October 24 test, the plan was for Fort Knox energy provider Nolin RECC to shut down all of Fort Knox’s substations, unplug from Louisville Gas & Electric — the electric and natural gas provider for the region — and independently stand up the Fort Knox grid, something no other Army installation has tried.

“At 10 a.m., the external power will get turned off to Fort Knox, and we’ll stand up on our own decentralized power generation at all of our substations, to include emergency generation,” said R.J. Dyrdek, energy manager for Fort Knox’s Directorate of Public Works, the day prior. “All circuits will be back up and running by hopefully no later than 10 after 10.”

Shortly before the start of the test, Nolin RECC officials expressed optimism that the outcome would be favorable.

“The thing to keep in mind is that anything could happen, but we are reasonably prepared and have a contingency for just about anything we can think of,” said Greg Lee, Nolin RECC’s vice president of systems operations. “We do test this in the middle of the night every six months.”

In the room sat U.S. Congressman Brett Guthrie of the 2nd District of Kentucky; Jack Surash, acting deputy assistant secretary of the Army for Energy & Sustainability; and Maj. Gen. John Evans Jr., commander of U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox. While they waited, the three asked questions of Lee and Dyrdek.

At 9:58, Dustin Ward, Nolin RECC-Fort Knox operations manager, began the power-down sequence to the substations, and Ward called LG&E to request disconnection from the grid around 10:01.

Everyone waited.

About a minute later, the room went dark. Seconds afterward, a generator outside the control station hummed to life and power came back to the control station. Lights flashed and flickered on the large monitors in front of the group as the system automatically started the reboot process.

Lee had explained to those in the room that the last few tests they performed have yielded little to no complications during the reboot process, although he admitted that sometimes computer systems hang up.

“We are cautiously optimistic that things are going to go quite well today,” said Lee, as the wall clock moved to 9:55.

Within a couple of minutes after the reboot, a problem surfaced. The power generation station for U.S. Army Human Resources Command wouldn’t close. Lee suggested the engineer try to close it manually.

Everyone continued to wait.

The call came in a little later that the breaker wouldn’t latch in. Ward suggested they continue working the issue. Finally, about 14 minutes into the test, the station locked in and started powering up.

“It’s closed in. Everything’s working as it should now,” said Ward. “We just had to make a quick reset. Something just caught up in the logic, I assume, but it’s closing its breakers now.”

The group of VIPs gathered up afterward to praise the Fort Knox team for their efforts in performing a successful test.

“It took a little longer than we anticipated but [Lee] suggested using a little grease, and that’s a good thing,” said Dyrdek. “I’m pretty excited about everything [being] back up and running.”

Pat Walsh, director of DPW, said about 2,000 facilities total, including 1,500 homes, get their power from the Fort Knox grid. Dyrdek said that with the kind of reserves they can tap into from heat, natural gas and other forms of energy, Fort Knox can actually run independently for an indefinite amount of time during an emergency. The current minimum, based on Army regulations, is 14 days.

“This shows that things can work in D.C.,” said Guthrie, after completion of the initial phase of the test.

Guthrie and other Kentucky congressmen were instrumental in getting legislation included in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act that assured Fort Knox’s continued focus on energy resilience.

“It makes Fort Knox unique, and it makes it better for other missions, and for opportunities for growth,” said Guthrie. “And it’s safety and security for our Soldiers, which is first and foremost.”

Surash said that while he hasn’t had the opportunity to get around to every installation working on energy resilience, he was very impressed with what Fort Knox accomplished.

“The capabilities at Fort Knox seem to be one of the best with respect to energy resiliency that I’m aware of,” said Surash. “I was happy to see that they actually tested that capability. It’s one thing to have a capability, but until you test it, you really don’t know what’s going to work and what’s not going to work.

“As it turns out this morning, the system worked as designed.”

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