Beale’s Shocking Upgrade

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Douglas P. Lorance
  • 9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

In order to keep Beale the intelligence spearhead of the Air Force, more than 200 power poles and their wiring are currently being replaced as part of an ongoing project to renovate and modernize Beale’s electrical infrastructure.

Nearly half of the base’s 2000 power poles have already been replaced in previous phases of the project. The current phase is concentrated on upgrading the electrical circuit which feeds into the water treatment plant, the flightline, and the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance campus. When all phases of the project are complete, the entire base’s electrical grid will have been revamped, from living areas to squadron buildings.

“We are living in the age of electricity and everything we do is dependent on the light switch working day after day,” said Duane Barker, 9th Civil Engineer Squadron base electrical engineer. “We can’t even get gas for our cars without the power being on.”

As the base grows to accommodate the increased mission demands, the old infrastructure is quickly becoming obsolete due to increased demands for power from facilities new and old.

“There are a number of projects involved in modifying the power grid,” said Alison Plant, 9th CES Project Management Element Chief. “The primary tasks are concerned with replacing the base’s power poles.”

While some poles need to be replaced, the base’s electrical system is also due for an overhaul thanks to Beale’s steady growth.

“The electrical loads on the base have increased over the years, and will increase even more with the new facilities currently being built,” said Barker. “We have to prepare an infrastructure that will stay ahead of the base’s growth and constantly increasing mission demands.”

One of the critical upgrades underway is transitioning to a larger wire size for the base’s powerlines. According to Barker, the current size wires will burn out under the strain of the new buildings being introduced to the grid.

Certain powerlines are also being shifted from their current location in fields to more accessible paved sites. Barker said this will make them easier to maintain, particularly in the winter when repair trucks sink into the muddy terrain.

Shifting these lines will not only make them easier to access, it will also put less stress on Beale’s local ecology.

“We are shifting our power infrastructure to more environmentally friendly areas to avoid disturbing vernal pools and endangered species whenever we perform maintenance,” said Plant.

Along with the updated powerlines, the substation directing electrical flow is going to be upgraded, and a second substation will be added to help bear the power load and provide a level of redundancy to the circuit.

“The idea is resiliency,” said Barker. “We’re trying to make power more reliable for these missions.”

On top of improving Beale’s current power circuit, there are plans to introduce a solar power plant to supply the Global Hawk mission even during a power outage and adding a second major power feed from the Western Area Power Administration to increase resiliency of the base’s mission. Another trial tactic Beale is looking to explore is the use of microgrids.

According to Barker, microgrids are an experimental method of dividing power into small, self-contained circuits that are independent from a larger circuit. These will keep the base operating even in the face of a statewide blackout.

In order to face the growing the demand for intelligence and surveillance, Beale has likewise grown to accommodate these demands. Thanks to these upgrades, the base can continue to grow and complete its mission.

“Beale is one of the key Air Force bases in the world,” said Barker. “Our mission has global impact, so the base needs to be prepared and powered at all times.”