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Generators Keep Altus Air Force Base Running

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kirby Turbak
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

In January 2010, a severe ice storm formed two inches of ice on anything exposed to the elements, including the main power line leading into the City of Altus power station.

The storm caused members of Altus Air Force Base to be without power or heat for 8 days. People had to seek shelter at Oklahoma City, Okla., Wichita Falls, Texas and some had to go as far as Dallas, Texas to find a vacant hotel.

In May 2015, Western Farmers Electrical Cooperative installed a 9-megawatt generator plant on Altus AFB.  The power plant allows WFEC to remove the base from the current transmission lines during peak summer load hours, which reduces the load demands on the power cables and frees up power for the local area. In addition the base also uses the generators for potential power outages from the main WFEC power lines.

On Dec. 27, 2015, another ice storm passed through Altus and the surrounding area causing power loss. The base was included in this area-wide outage.

“During the ice storm the transmission line coming into the base received extensive damage due to ice buildup and high winds,” said Darryl Knowles, 97th Civil Engineer Squadron facility system superintendent. “It was so bad that it took down the supporting poles holding up the wires.”

The generator worked for the first hour but downed power lines and other unforeseen circumstances tripped the generator off.

The 29 member team consisted of electricians and engineer specialists from the 97th CES, the WFEC, as well as technicians from the Air Force Civil Engineer Center by telephone reach-back in Florida. The teams worked for 12 hours during the height of the storm to find a short term fix to rewire the generator and provide power back to those on base.

“We had great support from Western Farmers and by 10:00 that night we had electricity to the dorms, visitor quarters and other key buildings,” said Heath Sirmons, 97th CES chief of planning and programming. “Back in 2010 people went a couple days without electricity and the Air Force had to start paying people to stay somewhere else until it was fixed.”

In 2010 the wing spent about $2.5 million to house people out of the local area. With the new generator in place it only cost the base roughly $50,000 to run it for six days.

In addition to the generator power plant capability, “Currently we have 40 percent of our power lines underground compared to 2010 which all the lines were above ground,” said Sirmons.

Power lines underground are less likely to be damaged during harsh weather conditions prone to the area like freezing rain, high winds and tornados.

The improvements to the base’s infrastructure such as the generator and underground power lines are examples of adaptions through innovation from lessons learned.