By Kathleen T. Rhem, American Forces Press Service

U.S. NAVAL BASE, GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (NNS) 4-1-05 — Navy public works officials here are combining ancient and modern technologies to build cost savings into the base’s energy program. Four huge, white wind turbines now stand guard over Gitmo from John Paul Jones Hill, the base’s highest point.

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

Standing some 26 stories high, the four three-blade turbines are among the base’s most noticeable features. But they are 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 July through October.

Unlike most U.S. military bases in the United States and overseas that get power and water from municipal sources, Guantanamo Bay is completely self-sustaining. It receives 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, but it just doesn’t work here.”

Before the wind turbines, the base operated its diesel-fueled generators around the clock to produce electricity. Since the turbines went into operation in early 2005, they have provided up to 12% of the power. 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 when the highest average winds blow is during the base’s peak energy-usage period - about 4 p.m., Johnston said.

In addition to generating power, the turbines have significantly cut down on emissions of greenhouse gases created by burning diesel fuel. Using the wind turbines would have the same effect as taking 2,500 cars off Guantanamo Bay’s roads for a year – quite 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, explaining that the soil anchors are sunk 30 to 40 feet deep, then sealed with grout - essentially nailed to the mountain. They’ are rated to withstand winds up to 140 miles per hour – equivalent to a category four hurricane. “If we get to the point where those blow down, that will be the least of our worries, because the rest of the base would probably suffer far more serious damage.”

Completely automated in their functioning, each turbine 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 will shut themselves down temporarily, stablize, and turn back on.

The turbines were funded through an energy performance savings contract with Noresco, a Massachusetts company specializing in energy solutions. Through this contract, Noresco provided all up front costs and the Navy will repay it from energy savings over an extended period.

The base also is realizing other cost-saving improvements through this contract. Officials are working with Noresco to replace two older diesel generators with more efficient models that will further reduce emissions and greatly lower maintenance requirements.

A bi-product of this contract is improvement of the energy-distribution system. Before recent upgrades, if a problem occurred somewhere along the line, it tripped the power on the entire base. A new, more robust system helps control outages and limits them to specific areas.