By Staff Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
To say the 50th Civil Engineer Squadron Central Utility Plant “powers” Schriever Air Force Base is an understatement.
In addition to providing energy to a majority of the installation, the Central Utility Plant, or CUP, also delivers heating and cooling to most facilities in the restricted area – creature comforts many would not think about. It also cools communications equipment required for mission operations
The plant is divided into two sections – power, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
Schriever receives its power from a Colorado energy company, which goes directly to the CUP’s switch-gear room for distribution to the base.
“We have our critical system that feeds our mission facilities and our non-critical system that feeds other facilities,” said Mark Zablocki, 50 CES Facility Systems Section chief and plant supervisor.
The plant also features seven backup generators that could supply power to the whole base. However, five of those are delegated to mission facilities that support space operations and more.
“We have seven generators with capacity of approximately 18.5 megawatts of power, which powers a majority of the base in the case of a commercial power loss,” Zablocki said.
To put that energy into perspective, a light bulb is typically 100 watts. That means 18.5 megawatts could power about 185,000 light bulbs, despite having three old generators.
In the 1980s, Schriever received six British generators as part of a trade agreement between Great Britain and the United States. The seventh generator was added in 1992 in support of growing demand. Approximately two years ago, three of its generators were replaced to increase efficiency and reduce resource demand. The newer generators feature their own radiators for cooling and battery start.
To ensure the generators are running properly and efficiently, five CUP power production operators conduct weekly, monthly and annual maintenance.
“We also perform generator runs where we shut down the power on base,” Zablocki said. “We test the system to ensure it is operating as designed. When we shut off the power, we ensure everybody gets power.”
For the HVAC section, the CUP provides cold water and steam for heating and cooling facilities in the restricted area.
“Once the buildings use the cold water, it goes back to the plant,” said Zablocki. “We recycle it and use it again for HVAC.”
The recycled water is pumped through seven cooling towers then routed through five massive chillers for cold water distribution. Meanwhile, water also goes through the plant’s four boilers where it transforms to steam to help warm and humidify RA facilities.
These products — power, heat and cold water — are distributed from the CUP through a maze of underground tunnels. Because these products are mission essential, the plant is a 24-hour operation.
“The Central Utility Plant provides the power, heating and cooling that our operators require to accomplish their mission,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Finn, 50 CES commander. “Our plant personnel are the best are the best in their field at providing that support.”
Zablocki said teamwork and communication is key to ensuring the CUP successfully provides these products to the base.
“If our personnel don’t communicate effectively, the CUP will fall apart,” Zablocki said. “Our teamwork is great. Even though each section has a different function, everyone chips in together.”