Military Could Produce 7 GW of Solar, Study Finds

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Seven military bases in California and two in Nevada could produce a hefty 7 GW of power from renewable solar and wind power, according to an extensive study the military commissioned from ICF International.

The study found that even though 96% of the surface area of the nine bases is unsuited for solar development because of military use, endangered species and other factors, the solar-compatible area is nevertheless large enough to generate more than 30 times the electricity actually used by the California bases, according to E&E News.

Like all federal agencies, the Department of Defense is under an administration mandate to produce clean energy to cut its carbon emissions 28% by 2020, and it has a $4 billion annual energy bill.

Military bases occupy more than 30 million acres of land, much of it in areas with lots of sun, and they need a secure supply of electricity as a matter of security, and commissioned the study to clarify the path to a solution.

The extensive year-long study eventually ruled out large portions of the bases’ developed areas because of the presence of cultural and biological resources, flash flood hazards and other conflicts. For each area that survived the geographic screening process, ICF looked at the technical feasibility of six alternative solar technologies and at the economic viability under private versus military ownership.

Most of the large areas of economically viable acreage is found at Edwards Air Force Base (24,327 acres), followed by Fort Irwin (18,728 acres), China Lake (6,777) and Twentynine Palms (553 acres).

The Department of Defense is working on ways to make it easier for developers to work with the military. Lack of experience in negotiating solar contracts has made working with the military difficult for developers in the past. Previously, individual base commanders were making decisions about solar or wind power on their bases without the expertise to figure out complexities.

“Commanders were often ill-equipped to navigate the legal hurdles of mechanisms like energy savings performance contracts and enhanced use leases, which allow the government to avoid the steep upfront costs of developing projects” says Annie Snyder of E&E News.

So last year it created a new Energy Initiatives Office Task Force, staffed with renewable energy experts able to make the renewable energy procurement process more informed, by separating it from the running of the bases, in order to streamline solar and wind development.

After considering various financing options in depth, both private and military, the study also found that private developers would be able to foot the bill for the capital investment, because a contract to supply the very credit-worthy military with energy is bankable.

The military could simply pay for energy as it used it, essentially substituting its large current monthly energy bill for a much smaller one. So solar development means it would not have to make capital investments on the taxpayers dime.

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