Electrical infrastructure improvements: 75 years in the making

Contractors work on electrical substation renovations at Beale Air Force Base.

Contractors work on electrical substation renovations at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. Oct. 23, 2017. Beale is upgrading five substations and building a new substation to meet the growing energy demands. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Tristan D. Viglianco)

Contractors raise themselves up to work on an electrical substation at Beale Air Force Base

Contractors raise themselves up to work on an electrical substation at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. Oct. 23, 2017. An increased demand for power meant Beale needed to revamp the entire electrical grid. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Tristan D. Viglianco)

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --  Beale opened during World War II and a lot has changed since then. Aircraft have come and gone and so have entire services, but one thing has remained a constant, the electrical system. With the addition of new mission sets and an increased need for power the 9th Civil Engineer Squadron has begun to modernize the systems.

“The current electrical system was built in 1942 and was not originally intended to provide power to key national security assets,” said Calvin Hendrix, 9th CES deputy base civil engineer. “So, we are replacing the old system with a new system, which is much more robust and resilient.”

According to Hendrix, they have renovated half of the 12 kilovolt (kV) distribution circuits so far and are going to begin renovating the 12 kilovolt kV transmission infrastructure.

Up until now we have been working on the 12 kV system. Our next big project is upgrading the 60 kV circuits, he said “We are taking out the old wooden poles, which run 60 kV, and replacing them with new steel poles. We also plan on adding a new 60 kV circuit to create a loop to increase reliability.”

In addition to the upgrades to the power lines, Hendrix said they plan on renovating the five existing substations on base and building a new one.

The planned improvements to Beale’s electrical infrastructure are ongoing and will continue for the next few years.

“We are going through a phased five year plan to renovate the backbone of our electrical infrastructure,” said Hendrix. In this fiscal year we are going to renovate the circuit from main base to the flightline. After that, we are going to renovate the circuit from the clinic out to Pave Paws and then we are going to renovate the system in housing.”

These updates are taking place just as the high-altitude intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance mission expands and the necessary power needed to keep them functioning increases.

“Beale’s missions rely on power,” said Charlie Gritzmacher, 9th Mission Support Group project manager. “We were getting close to our energy capacity. Part of what is driving the upgrades and the increase in capacity are the CMCC (Common Control Mission Center) and DGS (Distributed Ground Station) buildings coming online.”

As technology improves the need for energy will inevitably increase, the 9th CES has plans to meet the demands of the future.

“On most bases in the Air Force the mission revolves around the flightline. We have a flightline mission, but our primary mission revolves around electricity going to buildings,” said Hendrix. “In order to provide increased mission growth potential in the future we are attempting to connect to the Department of Energy WAPA (Western Area Power Administration) on the west side of the base.”

Gritzmacher said connecting to those lines would dramatically increase the power available to the base and ensure we can meet future energy needs.

“The side of the base we are currently tapped into provides us with 25 megawatts,” he said. “The side we would like to tap into could provide us with 512 megawatts.”

The improvements which have taken place and will take place are thanks to Beale’s Energy Resiliency Program.

The Secretary of the Air Force selected Beale to be the Resilient Energy Demonstration Initiative in 2016,” said Hendrix. “With that comes technology upgrades to our electrical infrastructure, photovoltaic storage, and a microgrid.”

Both Hendrix and Gritzmacher believe SECAF made the right decision in selecting Beale for the initiative.

“The reason Beale was selected is because we have a unique need for power,” said Gritzmacher. “Improving our electrical infrastructure on Beale is in the best interest to our national security.”