Since my retirement from the Army in December 2017, I have had the privilege of leading the Knox Regional Development Alliance (KRDA) - a community-based non-profit organization with a mission of protecting and promoting Fort Knox to increase its economic impact. Each and every day our team works to showcase the many attributes that make Fort Knox a premier military installation with a first-class defense community. With nearly three years as KRDA’s CEO under my belt, I’ve seen firsthand how factors like energy resilience set installations and defense communities apart from others.
Energy Resilience Matters. The Department of Defense (DOD) is reliant on civilian electrical grids to power installations, which are susceptible to weather events and physical or cyber attacks. The ability of an installation to limit its reliance on the civilian network or completely generate its own power provides for continuity of operations. This resilience can come in the form of alternate forms of energy, the installation being a micro grid of the larger electrical grid, or a combination of the two. The Navy at Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport has partnered with local energy providers to establish a solar system; micro grids have been used at Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts and Subbase New London in Connecticut and a few other places. While these are steps in the right direction, the unique capabilities at Fort Knox make it the best energy program in all of DOD.
Defining Energy Resilience. Energy security and energy resilience are sometimes used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Energy security is ensuring an installation has reliable, protected access to energy in sufficient quantities to meet the needs of its various missions. Energy resilience takes it a step further ensuring that in the event of disruptions in commercial energy services, the installation can continue to provide reliable sufficient energy for its missions. Those potential disruptions could be natural or man-made (by bad actors). In Fort Knox’s case, it was a natural disruption - a 2009 ice storm that left the installation without power for several days - that fueled the post’s leadership toward energy independence.
Section 101 of title 10, United States Code (U.S.C.) says energy resilience is “the ability to avoid, prepare for, minimize, adapt to, and recover from anticipated and unanticipated energy disruptions in order to ensure energy availability and reliability sufficient to provide for mission assurance and readiness, including mission essential operations related to readiness, and to execute or rapidly reestablish mission essential requirements.”
Becoming an Energy Island. Like several other military installations, Fort Knox is on its own microgrid. While it is still connected and powered by the main grid, being on a separate microgrid allows the installation to operate as a separate energy island. Having alternative energy sources to fuel the microgrid in the event of the disruption is what determines resiliency and sets Fort Knox apart from all others. Early guidance required that Army installations be capable of powering critical missions for a minimum of 14 days in the event of a disruption; current guidance leaves it to the discretion of the post commanding general; Fort Knox is working towards one year.
While several installations are working toward the 14-day standard, few have realized that capability like Fort Knox has. Thanks to support from the Kentucky Congressional Delegation, Fort Knox is able to tap into the rich natural gas reserves on the installation to help fuel its back-up generators, and on at least two occasions, the installation has demonstrated its ability to operate completely independent from its commercial power provider. The micro grid, the ability to generate its own power, extensive use of geothermal heating and cooling and real-time facility monitoring truly puts Fort Knox in a class all by itself.
Fort Knox’s energy program is critical for the many missions taking place that have significant information technology needs. The installation’s energy independence also makes Fort Knox an ideal location for other missions with large data centers. Additionally, when there is a power disruption, the commercial energy providers can focus on critical needs outside the gate knowing Fort Knox is up and running. That makes for a good neighbor and Fort Knox couldn’t be a better one.
Next time, I’ll share more on how our community is being a good neighbor to Fort Knox. Until then here are some helpful links on the subject of energy resilience.
- The Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations Energy and Environment
- Cutting the Cord to Test Energy Resilience
- Fort Knox Earns Two Army Energy Awards for Successfully Taking Post 'Off the Grid'
- Fort Knox Energy Security Project – YouTube
Brig. Gen. (Ret) Jim Iacocca
President / CEO
Knox Regional Development Alliance