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At Camp Lejeune, the Marines plan a microgrid for storm resilience

Camp Lejeune Microgrid
Duke Energy
Graphic illustration
The microgrid at Camp Johnson will include gas generators (left) and battery storage, to help the base continue operating during major power outages.

When Hurricane Florence hit in 2018, the power went out for 11 days in part of Camp Lejeune on the North Carolina coast. Most of the U.S. Marine base is fed by multiple power lines and wasn't affected. But one section, Camp Johnson, has only a single power line.

All operations there were shut down.

Last week, the Marines signed a $22 million contract with Duke Energy to construct an electricity microgrid that's supposed to keep the base running in the future — even if access to the main grid goes down.

"It took us nearly a year to recover from that 11 days of outage," said Marine Cmdr. Ross Campbell, Camp Lejeune's public works director. "We anticipate that for every day that we are without power Camp Johnson, we lose a million dollars."

Camp Johnson hosts 3,200 Marine recruits in training at any one time, and the outage threw off training schedules. In some cases, that meant trainees weren't ready for deployments on time, Campbell said. And it meant some recruits wouldn't have as many deployments in their typical four-year enlistment periods.

Self-contained power grid

A microgrid is a self-contained electricity network that can operate independently of the larger power grid. Duke's contract calls for installing a series of batteries to store electricity from the grid and from an on-base solar farm. (The solar farm also is getting an upgrade.) The installation will also have gas-fired emergency generators.

"And so what the microgrid offers us is resilience from storm impacts," Campbell said.

As climate change brings the threat of more intense storms, the military focused on resilience. A Duke Energy division called Duke Energy Solutions will build the project, which is funded by the Defense Department's Energy Resilience Conservation Investment Program (ERCIP).

Duke Energy spokesman Randy Wheeless said the microgrid will operate only rarely.

"If there was a major transmission outage, hurricane, whatever … the batteries can kick in immediately, and run the base for a few hours," Wheeless said. Eventually, the generators would take over and could run this section of Camp Lejeune as long as needed, he said.

"It gives them an onsite generation source so that they can exist on their own island from the grid," he said.

Duke Energy also has been testing and installing microgrids for about a decade. In the North Carolina mountain town of Hot Springs, a microgrid soon will provide emergency backup for about 500 customers served by only a single power line.

The Camp Lejeune project is expected to be completed in mid-2024.

This story originally appeared in WFAE's weekly Climate newsletter.

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.