Whether you call it three-dimensional chess, rope-a-dope, or just plain old steamrolling over the opposition, the Department of Defense has been upping the ante on its renewable energy initiatives despite pushback from Republican leadership in Congress. In the latest maneuver, DoD has just joined with the Department of the Interior to explore the potential for wind, solar, and geothermal energy on millions of acres of land at military facilities in the western U.S.
DoD will also explore offshore wind potential at coastal installations on the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards, as well as the Gulf of Mexico and Hawaii.
An MOU on Renewable Energy for DOD and DOI
The two agencies have signed a memorandum of understanding that focuses on 13 million acres of public land in the prime renewable energy regions of the continental U.S. as well as coastal areas.
These 13 million acres consist of land that was previously under the jurisdiction of DOI’s Bureau of Land Management but had been set aside or “withdrawn” for use by the military.
Two limiting factors will affect how much of that land will eventually be developed for renewable energy. One is the avoidance of conflict with military operations. The other, of course, consists of environmental impact.
That second factor is going to be a dicey one, but not necessarily a minimal one.
Aside from land use parameters laid out in the new agreement, DoD is beginning to establish a track record on habitat preservation on military lands, and non-government groups like the Nature Conservancy are also contributing to the body of knowledge on appropriate renewable energy site development.
In addition, the U.S. EPA has been identifying millions of acres in appropriate sites for renewable energy projects through its Re-Powering America’s Land program, which focuses on brownfields and Superfund sites.
A Blueprint for Renewable Energy
The new agreement complements an existing initiative of the U.S. Army, called the Energy Initiatives Task Force. EITF was launched last year as a kind of renewable energy strike group to speed up the construction of renewable energy projects at Army facilities. Rather than piling management of these projects onto the already full plate of individual base commanders, EITF set up a central office of experienced personnel to work with the renewable energy industry on utility-scale projects.
As part of the new agreement, DoD and DOI will launch a pilot program that streamlines the authorization of solar installations, beginning with military facilities in Arizona and California. The two agencies will also co-chair a forum with the offshore wind industry this fall and set up a working group for geothermal energy.
Combined with microgrid technologies, the primary goal is to provide military facilities with enough renewable energy capability to operate without relying on the commercial grid.
As a side-effect, DoD renewable energy installations could easily end up providing a significant amount of excess energy to the civilian grid, as shown by a study of DoD’s geothermal potential.
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.