Solar boost: Fed pushes for renewable energy projects
A new plan announced by the federal government this week encourages development of renewable energy projects on areas near military installations, including the Barry M. Goldwater Range and U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground.
The goals of the Renewable Energy Partnership Plan are to strengthen energy security and reduce military utility costs.
The Defense and Interior departments are working together to carry out the plan. They hope private firms will partner with the government to harness solar, wind, geothermal and biomass energy resources on or near military installations across the country, officials said.
The Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, which controls part of the Barry M. Goldwater Range, is waiting for further instructions on how to proceed.
“We're still receiving further guidance in how they'd like us to move ahead,” Capt. Staci Reidinger, MCAS director of public affairs, said.
However, both the bombing range and YPG have already been testing solar projects on the installations.
“Being located in one of the sunniest places in the world and as one of the largest military installations in the nation, the generation of solar power is a big deal at Yuma Proving Ground,” said Chuck Wullenjohn, YPG public affairs officer.
“YPG is committed to utilizing its natural resources to build an infrastructure of renewable energy projects. That is why we are active partners with the U.S. Army Energy Initiatives Task Force.”
The task force is responsible for projects of 10 megawatts and greater using solar, wind, biomass and geothermal energy technologies on Army installations in the United States.
The task force also serves as the central management office for partnerships between the private sector and Army installations to develop cost-effective, large-scale renewable energy projects.
“We've been working with the task force to explore the viability of solar projects to assess opportunities for renewable development at YPG,” Wullenjohn said.
He noted that task force representatives have made several visits to the testing ground. “We have provided a great deal of data to them. The task force has not yet reached the decision-stage.”
The arrangement would be similar to the one YPG currently has with General Motors. The Army provided GM with land for a vehicle testing facility, and in return GM allows YPG to use the facility and test tracks.
With the solar projects, the government would provide private firms with land around military installations and the companies would construct sources of solar power and provide energy directly to a single installation or a network of installations.
Some larger projects could involve the sale of excess power to the grid, provided appropriate measures ensure base security.
The Defense Department has been pursuing development of renewable energy on its installations to improve energy security and to reduce its $4 billion-a-year utility bill.
“One of the benefits is energy security,” Wullenjohn said. “Right now we get our energy through the grid. If it goes down, we use generators until the fuel runs out.”
Renewable energy would allow a base to maintain critical functions for weeks or months if the commercial grid goes down.
“Developing renewable energy is the right thing to do for national security, as well as for the environment and our economy,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in a statement.
“Renewable energy projects built on these lands will provide reliable, local sources of power for military installations; allow for a continued energy supply if the commercial power grid gets disrupted; and will help lower utility costs,” Panetta added.
Each of the military services has committed to generating 1 gigawatt of renewable energy on or near its installations by 2025.
As part of attaining that goal, “we're already moving ahead and pursuing some current renewable energy projects,” Reidinger said.
MCAS has been working on small projects, such as installing solar panels on covered parking and solar-powered street lights. With the coming of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, construction of the new facilities include energy efficient structures.
Reidinger pointed out the dual purpose of the push for renewable energy.
“One, it's to secure enough alternative energy in case of a national blackout, and second, it's to meet federal government alternative energy goals,” she said.
YPG has also been testing smaller projects, all part of the bigger effort which might eventually cover miles and miles of land, Wullenjohn said.
Defense installations encompass roughly 28 million acres in the United States, of which 16 million acres previously managed by the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management were set aside for military use. About 13 million acres of these withdrawn lands are in the West and are high in wind, solar and geothermal resources.
In addition, the government announced that the BLM and Defense Department will develop a pilot process for authorizing solar energy projects on several military installations, including the Barry M. Goldwater Range and Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.
The Defense Department will take the lead in permitting and leasing for renewable energy projects on lands set aside for defense-related purposes.
Mara Knaub can be reached at email@example.com or (928) 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.