Oct. 29, 2012: Hurricane Sandy knocked out power to an estimated 8.1 million individual locations in 17 states, as far west as Michigan. Outages affected some areas for weeks, and often more remote locations – like those that tend to encompass wildlife refuges – remained without for longer or were forced to rely on whatever backup power generators they had on hand.
In the New York-New Jersey region, even some facilities that had generators found themselves faced with unexpected challenges like post-hurricane fuel rationing. This lasted an average of two weeks in the metro area and limited power supply, in many cases, to however much fuel had already been stockpiled. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Staff from the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Basking Ridge, N.J. (only 25 miles from Times Square) found themselves driving as far as Pennsylvania to buy diesel for their generators. Other Fish and Wildlife refuges suffered in darkness for days after the super storm as well, including the Canaan Valley refuge in West Virginia, which was buried in over three feet of wet snow—a condition that did nothing to help keep power lines up in the region.
In response to extreme circumstances like those that occurred in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, backup and solar power system installations are planned for 18 U.S. Fish and Wildlife facilities throughout the Northeast region, including 17 refuges and the National Conservation Training Center in Shepardstown, West Virginia. The power projects form a unique subset of the Service’s Sandy recovery efforts—one that focuses keenly on resilience and preparation for projected future storms. They represent a substantial investment by the U.S. Department of the Interior in reliable emergency resources, and reaffirm its commitment to increasing federal facilities’ utilization of renewable energy sources.
After initially contracting out design work for a few planned power systems in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, Service engineers Mark Orton and Chuck Gess were tapped from within in an effort to speed up design and approval processes and save taxpayer dollars. The decision proved to be a good one, and now the power projects are nearing something of a critical mass, with many locations looking at installation by the summer of 2014.
According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service facility management specialist Kevin Ortyl, sites equipped with backup and solar power proved invaluable in the aftermath of the super storm.
“Those stations that had backup power during Hurricane Sandy, including those at Long Island and Rhode Island refuges, were a great resource for their local communities,” says Ortyl. “Their headquarters and offices were used to coordinate emergency responses, provide logistical support, make phone calls and even offer cooked meals and showers.”
Photovoltaic (PV) solar power systems also represent an important part of the Service’s mission, he says.
“Solar PV and the need for alternative energy have always been important to FWS. The more we are off the grid and can lessen our carbon footprint, the better, and installing more solar PV is an ongoing opportunity to achieve this. Using a renewable resource such as the sun aids in our continuing effort to tread lightly.”
In addition to reducing the carbon output of Service facilities, solar PV will also save taxpayer dollars. At the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland, solar PV systems that Mark Orton designed are being installed at two buildings, and between them will save the refuge an estimated $6,210 in annual utility bills. Gess says that the systems he’s been designing will offset 40 percent of a building’s load (on average), though at least one PV system at Rhode Island’s Beane Point will provide 100 percent of its needs and will be totally off-grid.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working to repair and restore public lands on the Atlantic coast since Hurricane Sandy impacted them in October of 2012. To learn more about the Service’s ongoing efforts to facilitate habitat recovery and build coastal resilience that helps protect communities, please visit http://www.fws.gov/hurricane/sandy.