The Defense Logistics Agency awarded a utilities privatization contract to Choctawhatchee Electric Cooperative, or CHELCO, to own, operate and maintain the electrical system infrastructure at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida for 50 years.
Having previously privatized the water, waste water and gas utility systems, this contract award makes Eglin AFB, which is the largest installation within the continental United States, the second Air Force installation to privatize all four utility systems.
"This is another significant step forward for Eglin AFB toward a more efficient, resilient and reliable energy program with an outstanding energy partner in CHELCO," said Col. Craig Johnson, commander of the 96th Civil Engineer Group at Eglin.
American States Utility Services was awarded the base’s water and waste water utility systems this past July and Okaloosa Gas was awarded the gas utility system in 2005. CHELCO joins these companies to make all the installation’s utility systems privatized.
“CHELCO is excited to be supporting the infrastructure on Eglin AFB as we have always been very supportive of the military community we serve,” said Steve Rhodes, CHELCO chief executive officer. “We are looking forward to working with existing utility companies that already serve the base.”
Eglin AFB covers more than 640 square miles of land in Northwest Florida. The large footprint of the installation posed a unique challenge to awarding the contract, said David Mathews, project manager at the Air Force Civil Engineer Center at Tyndall AFB, Florida.
“There are of pieces of electrical infrastructure that cover the entire Florida panhandle,” Mathews said. “We visited every piece to determine if there was infrastructure to put in the solicitation. The distance that separates all of the units made it time-consuming.”
The base’s geographical area also makes it difficult to assure a constant power supply with the existing infrastructure. For $20 million over the first five years of the project, CHELCO and Air Force civil engineering personnel have planned 12 projects for Eglin AFB, six of which are projected to add to the installation’s resiliency by improving the ability to recover after a power outage. For example, the installation is currently separated into two grids, with no way to exchange power between them. CHELCO will add an interconnect between the grids so, if one goes down, power can be supplied from the other.
“The base has been trying to get this funded for many years,” said Richard Weston, chief of utilities privatization at AFCEC. “Currently, the base is not agile enough to reconfigure after an outage. This will improve the resiliency of the base grid immensely.”
While civil engineering personnel at Eglin AFB and AFCEC did not begin privatizing Eglin utilities with the intention of privatizing all four systems, it became a goal when they realized the potential for savings. The three contracts at Eglin have a total cost avoidance of more than $161 million over the lifespans of each contract.
“There is a sense of accomplishment every step of the way,” said Jeep Wedding, the Air Force utilities privatization program manager. “Every step toward getting one more system privatized is getting us closer to our goals.”
The UP efforts at Eglin are also part of a larger plan to modernize the installation.
“It is all part of our plan to recapitalize the installation in a program we call NexGen Eglin," Johnson said. “We aim to transform a proud, but tired, mid-20th-century installation into a revitalized 21st-century installation, enabling cutting-edge research, development, test and evaluation programs, and Team Eglin missions to produce war-winning capabilities for the warfighter.”
Utilities privatization allows the Air Force to focus their civil engineering manpower on mission-critical issues, while the utility companies assure the utility systems are maintained and operating to industry standards.
The Air Force has privatized 71 utility systems with a total life-cycle cost avoidance of $681 million.
Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the Air Force Civil Engineer Center website.