By Cdr. Todd Wimmer, P.E., LEED AP, F.SAME, USCG

Located 50-mi north of San Francisco, Calif., Training Center Petaluma provides apprentice-level instruction for eight enlisted rating trade specialties in the U.S. Coast Guard. The complex, situated not on the Pacific Ocean but in the rolling hills of the Two Rock Valley, operates 10 schools offering 50 courses to approximately 4,000 students each year, providing leadership and critical rating specialty competency and proficiency training. Support facilities span more than 800-acres with 219 buildings and structures, including 127 family units, a fully staffed clinic, a chapel, a police and fire department, and more than 800,000-ft² of training facilities.

In recent years, the Coast Guard has experienced the destructive forces of hurricanes, floods, and wildfires—and the corresponding disruption these threats cause to core mission capabilities, personnel, and their families. During the October 2019 Kincade Fire, Training Center Petaluma lost utility power for more than five days. And, while the final evacuation sequence was never commenced, advanced preparations were underway for what would have been the first full-facility evacuation as smoke filled the nearby hillsides. Just before power was ultimately restored, it became clear that concerned students, displaced faculty, distraught families, and staff were mere hours away from losing their ability to shelter in place and maintain core mission capabilities. These preparations identified gaps that the base could not sustain and started a complete re-evaluation of the facility’s hierarchy of needs.

To address energy resilience gaps exposed by the 2019 Kincade wildfire, Coast Guard Training Center Petaluma, Calif., is installing the service’s first base-wide microgrid and battery energy storage system. U.S. COAST GUARD PHOTO BY LT. J.G. SONDRAKAY KNEEN


Like most federal installations, Training Center Petaluma has limited emergency generator backup to support only those base functions identified as “critical.” Correspondingly, the campus has historically accepted significant risk exposure given increased threats to public utility power supplies.

Since the 2017 dry season, Northern California has continued to face an increased safety risk due to wildfire, drought conditions, high-wind events, flooding, and infrastructure and utility vulnerabilities. The historic extended dry season in 2020 resulted in the shutdown of the 645-MW Lake Oroville hydroelectric power plant, further straining regional power generation assets and removing a layer of redundancy.

These conditions motivated base engineering staff to lead a hierarchy-of-needs validation for the installation, to include food and water, waste, shelter, utilities, liquid fuels, communications, and first responder services. With a supportive local and regional command endorsement, this analysis would serve as the bedrock for the exploration and implementation of resilience measures across the campus—with electrical utility interruptions a significant, complex, and first vulnerability to eliminate.

Immediately following the 2019 Kincade Fire and the five-day continuous outage event, Training Center Petaluma committed to increasing its resilience to extended electric utility outages: removing risk to personnel safety and ensuring mission continuity. In fact, it is riskier to attempt to move 1,200 people quickly down one-lane roads than it is to leverage the existing campus infrastructure. Future challenges to the complex would be met with a resourced, aggregated crew working together from a secure hub to sustain a community in time of need and ensure safety and mission continuity.

The training center’s facilities engineering staff engaged several federal partners to begin a microgrid potential analysis: the Federal Energy Management Program, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Staff worked closely with all external stakeholders to analyze multiple years’ worth of 15-min incremental utility usage data to preliminarily size a conceptual solar generation, battery energy storage system, and microgrid control system capable of supporting full electrical utility needs for a ten-day outage duration.

The analysis determined the technical and economic feasibility of installing an electric microgrid that would allow the installation to operate and sustain all base operations for a minimum of five days, with 10 days off-grid as the optimal requirement.

The energy sales agreement/ energy savings performance contract includes a 15-acre solar photovoltaic array, 11-MWh of batteries, and microgrid control system. PHOTO COURTESY AMERESCO


In late fall 2020, a rigorous preliminary analysis was in place that was utilized to garner additional support through the Coast Guard Force Readiness Command and the Coast Guard Assistant Commandant for Engineering & Logistics. Ultimately, the analysis gained concurrence to proceed to the microgrid installation.

An interagency agreement was executed between the Coast Guard and Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) Energy to provide energy performance contract support. With a well-defined scope, technical preliminary assessment, urgency for action, and clear need for support to Training Center Petaluma, the multi-agency project team proceeded to pursue a first-of-its-kind partnership for the Coast Guard and DLA Energy, with DLA Energy providing life-of-contract procurement administration of a major energy resilience project.

Comprehensive Approach. The project team leveraged the Department of Energy’s existing energy services indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity contract vehicle to down-select to an energy services company and then proceed directly to conducting an investment grade audit—communicating clearly to industry that a comprehensive yet expeditious project was the objective. The energy services company selected to perform the audit was onsite within days, despite the challenges of COVID-19. Focusing initially on the electric utility resilience requirements and then exploring all possible energy conservation measures to help offset capital and finance costs with savings, the audit development sought to integrate three prior major capital investment projects, prior energy performance contracts at the site, and an existing renewable energy Power Purchase Agreement.

The resulting audit recommended a 20-year energy sales agreement embedded within an energy savings performance contract to fully fund the necessary project requirements in their entirety. The energy savings performance contract will provide six energy conservation measures, including a resilience component, which is the implementation of the onsite renewable energy microgrid system. The other energy conservation measures touch nearly every system, piece of equipment, lighting fixture, and building component to provide savings in efficiency enough to help buy the infrastructure upgrades over the life of the project.

Advancing Mutual Requirements. In parallel with the audit development, the project team worked closely with the public utility to ensure mutual understanding of the requirements to interconnect to the servicing off-base utility infrastructure. Knowing that there would be an infrastructure cost involved with a system designed to export a significant amount of electrical power back into the utility grid, the team worked closely to develop an engineer-to-engineer relationship to provide as much technical clarity as possible in the engineering approach.

In September 2021, DLA Energy culminated a 10-month accelerated acquisition on behalf of the Coast Guard by awarding a 23-year (two-year construction and 21-year finance term), $48 million energy savings performance contract/energy sales agreement between the Coast Guard and the energy services company. The two-year construction period is now in progress and includes an additional 15-acre solar photovoltaic array, 11-MWh of batteries, and a microgrid control system to allow the system to operate as a grid-forming asset. Commissioning is expected in late 2023.

The energy savings performance contract at Training Center Petaluma is the first to consistently orient around personnel safety and will increase expectant shelter-in-place capabilities. U.S. COAST GUARD PHOTO BY BARRY LANE


While not the first energy project at the site, nor the first to incorporate mission resilience and on-site renewable energy, this effort is the first to consistently orient around the safety of active-duty personnel on- and off-base, as well as civilians, their families, and reservist and retirees within the surrounding community. Over the last few decades, energy performance contracts have evolved from pursuing efficiency and consumption reductions to a focus on cost reductions, and now to extending mission support capability. More recently, objectives prioritize increasing resilience. The Coast Guard is using this unique procurement method to satisfy a hierarchy of needs against climate change and protect the service’s greatest asset—its people. This incredible effort shows that our mission supports professionals and engineers in the field, and with the right partnerships, we can indeed attain this goal.

This project is not just a response to the needs of a field command; it will serve as a benchmark and instructional playbook for the support partnerships and resilient safety and mission security needs of other large installations across the Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, and federal government. Expectant shelter-in-place capabilities and lasting endurance from this project were certainly enabled through prior and expanded energy efficiency efforts.

Importantly, the multi-disciplinary, multi-agency partnership focused on the safety and resilience of local facility infrastructure and multi-dimensional risk mitigation from project onset—a guiding principle for future generations of engineers, planners, and operational partners. While man-made and climate change threats are increasingly becoming a challenge to overcome, the construction and commissioning for this energy resilience project at Training Center Petaluma will help ensure that future servicemembers training to execute Coast Guard operations worldwide will not be delayed in their training mission focus.

Our engineering and support professionals look ahead to remain Always Ready for the next known unknowns that are just over the Coast Guard’s horizon.

Cdr. Todd Wimmer, P.E., LEED AP, F.SAME, USCG, is Facilities Engineer, Coast Guard Training Center Petaluma, Calif.;

[This article first published in the March-April 2022 issue of The Military Engineer.]