Department Of Defense Undertakes Largest Solar Project To Date

CREDIT: shutterstock

The U.S. Army announced plans on Monday to begin construction on the Department of Defense’s largest solar array on a military installation. Groundbreaking for the 20-megawatt project will take place on April 25, with commercial operations slated to begin late this year. It will provide about a quarter of the annual electricity use for Fort Huachuca in southeast Arizona.

“The project establishes a new path for an innovative partnering opportunity among the U.S. Army, other federal agencies, private industry and the utility provider,” said Richard Kidd, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for energy and sustainability. “I applaud the significant efforts and teamwork to bring this project to fruition — and set the example for other large scale renewable energy opportunities.”

The project is being installed under a purchase power agreement in which the solar installer, in this case Tucson Electric Power, pays for installation, operation, and maintenance and then pays down costs and generates revenue through sales of electricity. The project is an example of public-private industry collaboration in which no taxpayer dollars will be spent. The installation, design, engineering and construction of the project will be overseen by E.ON, a multinational investor-owned energy supplier.

The U.S. Army is committed to sustainable energy practices for a number of reasons, not least of which is a the acknowledgement of climate change as a threat to geopolitical order and a national security threat multiplier. Renewable energy from installations like those planned for Fort Huachuca are also “energy secure” in the sense that they don’t require the transport of fossil fuels — or the import from other countries — and they can also continue to operate even if the broader electricity grid is disrupted. While severe weather is the leading cause of power outages in the country, a recent study by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found that the U.S. could experience a coast-to-coast blackout if just nine of the country’s 55,000 electric-transmission substations were knocked out during a hot summer day. Renewable energy can also be cheaper than alternative options, with this becoming more frequent as solar prices continue to drop. Currently it costs the U.S. military $4 billion a year to power its bases.

The Army is committed to deploying one gigawatt of renewable energy by 2025, with solar playing a leading role. According to a recent study called “Power Surge” from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the number of energy saving and efficiency projects at military installations more than doubled from 2010 to 2012, going from 630 to 1,339, with the number of renewable energy projects going from 454 to 700 during the same period.

“The military’s clean energy installation initiatives are gathering momentum, enhancing base energy security,” Phyllis Cuttino, who directs Pew’s project on national security, energy, and climate, said when the study was released in January. “These improvements are possible even as the Pentagon’s budget is shrinking because the armed services are harnessing private-sector expertise and resources. This is a win-win-win proposition: The military gets better energy infrastructure, taxpayer dollars are saved, and the clean energy industry is finding new market opportunities.”

In fiscal year 2012 the Department of Defense accounted for one percent of U.S. energy consumption and about four-fifths of the federal government’s energy consumption.