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Clean Power us military installs more geothermal at bases

Published on July 10th, 2010 | by Tina Casey


Geothermal Energy Could Make the Department of Defense a Supplier of U.S. Energy, Not Just a Consumer

July 10th, 2010 by  

us military installs more geothermal at basesThe U.S. military’s drive to replace fossil fuels with sustainable energy could result in an interesting twist: the military could wind up being a net supplier of energy to the U.S. electricity grid, in the form of geothermal power tapped from land owned by the Department of Defense (pdf alert).


Since 2004, Fort Drum in upstate New York has been installing geothermal systems in 19 buildings in various stages of completion. Across the country in Texas, Fort Bliss is looking to geothermal for achieving net zero carbon emissions in ten years.  There are many more examples in between, and a study by the the Engineer Research and Development Center of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suggests that that the Department of Defense has enough geothermal resources to produce electricity for the national grid as well as its own bases.

Sustainable Energy and the U.S. Military

Even as the previous administration cultivated a gung-ho attitude toward the pursuit of fossil fuels, the U.S. military was busy under the radar, quietly ramping up its commitment to low-risk, sustainable energy.  Now that the Obama administration has begun to pump more public resources into alternative fuels, the rhetorical gloves are off.  As aptly stated by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Howard Bromberg, the Commanding General of Fort Bliss, the goal of the base’s geothermal program is “to become champions of renewable energy in production generation, efficiency and conservation.”

Sustainable Energy at Fort Drum

Fort Drum’s foray into geothermal began with the new Wheeler-Sack Air Field Complex.  Based on performance quality, geothermal quickly became the energy source of choice for new barracks projects at the base, and eventually for all new construction where possible.  Geothermal is not suitable for open buildings such as hangars, so these structures incorporate solar walls (in fact, Fort Drum has the world’s largest collection of solar air heated systems). The latest geothermal project at Fort Drum is being incorporated into the new Child Development Center, which will also be the base’s first ever LEED Gold certified building.  The cost of the geothermal system was about 30% greater than conventional HVAC, but the payback period is only three to seven years.

Geothermal Energy from Oil and Gas Wells

Sustainable energy from oil and gas might sound like an oxymoron, but bear with me.  As part of its work in Iraq and post-Katrina coastal states, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) analyzed the geothermal potential in the region and noted that the Gulf Coast has thousands of oil and gas wells that are deep enough to reach temperatures up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and more.  The report suggested that as a short term approach, fluid from oil and gas wells could be tapped for its geothermal potential by installing portable generators at wellheads or other on-site facilities.  The use of fluid and infrastructure at existing wells would help reduce costs, compared to drilling new wells exclusively for a new geothermal facility.

Geothermal Energy on Department of Defense Lands

The report, in the form of a 36-slide PowerPoint presentation, also noted that on Department of Defense lands alone there is a potential for up to 926 gigawatts of geothermal power.  It identified suitable lands at bases across the country, from the east coast to the west coast, and from Florida as far north as Missouri.  While observing that there are some conditions for a successful geothermal program, at the bottom of slide 33 you can find the money quote with this modestly stated point: “Sell-back excess capacity.”  It could be that the U.S. public is sitting on a renewable energy gold mine in the form of Defense Department property, which could play a critical role in our new energy future.

Update: Here’s another article on the subject of oil and gas geothermal cogeneration.

Image: Volcano by Image Editor on flickr.com.

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About the Author

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. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • The Coso geothermal field is located on US DOD lands at the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station. The facility produces ~240 MWe, way more than is needed by NAWS, from 9 geothermal steam turbines. The power is sold into the grid due to the routing of transmission lines in that part of the world, but the Navy gets substantial royalties from the sale of that power. The Fallon Naval Air Station has a geothermal project in the works and the DOD is working to develop geothermal resources on other sites. Across the western states and in the Gulf there is ample geothermal resource on DOD lands that could be developed for power generation. As technology develops, this could extend across the whole US.

  • Laura

    A while ago, while researching hydrogen fuel cells, I came across an article that said the US Government was turning to them to power their vehicles. Yay! As the government, particularly the military does, so eventually will the rest of America do (note the Internet for example).

    However, my heart sank as I read on, that they had found the best and cheapest form of obtaining hydrogen was–you guessed it–gas. So in a sense there would be no gain, other than lower emissions. But we would still be dependent on a non-renewable energy resource.

    This article lifts my heart again at the prospect of large-scale projects like this becoming the norm. If the military can find a way to make a net gain off of geothermal, or any other kind of renewable energy, besides the prospect of reselling that extra energy which could help US energy supplies and fund the military, there is also the strong possibility that anything they learn and invent from this venture, can eventually be passed down to corporations and the every-day American.

    And that means, eventually, we can all be using renewable energy.

    Yay, again!

    • Tina Casey

      regarding hydrogen derived from gas, researchers are developing processes that use renewable energy to obtain hydrogen by splitting water molecules

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