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SolarCity Brings 21st Century Energy To 1850’s Army Base

Solar industry powerhouse SolarCity has just announced that its largest ever military project will go to power 4,700 homes at Fort Bliss in Texas and the White Sands Missile Range just across the border in New Mexico.

At a total of 13.2 megawatts, the installation is SolarCity’s biggest military project to date. It’s also a significant step forward for Fort Bliss. The base can date its history back to the 1850’s, but it has been charging full bore into the new alternative energy territory of the 21st century, and the new solar installation demonstrates how rapidly the U.S. could transition out of fossil fuels.

Balfour Beatty Communities, LLC initiated this project and their on-base expertise made it possible.

solarcity will install solar panels at fort bliss

The SolarCity Installation at Fort Bliss

The SolarCity project is the third in a series that will eventually cover 120,000 military homes for a total of $1 billion and 300 megawatts. Called SolarStrong, it dovetails with an ongoing Department of Defense initiative to put military housing under private management, which began in 1996. Basically, the housing initiative set up lease agreements that attracted private sector dollars onto military bases.

If the lease agreement setup sounds familiar, it’s the same basic arrangement that SolarCity and other solar companies have used to make solar power affordable (up front) and available to more property owners.

With this platform in hand, the DoD pays no money up front for the solar installations, and that provides a neat buffer between it and certain legislators who are opposed to federal investment in clean energy.

SolarCity, Green Jobs and Veterans

In his Veterans Day address, President Obama promised a renewed focus on services for returning veterans, including jobs. SolarCity is already on board. According to the company, it employs 79 veterans, including its Vice President and architect for SolarStrong.

SolarCity also notes that “large numbers” of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are returning to the Fort Bliss area, where the company’s solar project will create more than 100 new jobs.

Fort Bliss as a Green Leader

Fort Bliss is one of a handful of bases selected to lead the Army Net Zero initiative, which just like the name says envisions vast, sprawling complexes that use no more energy than they can generate on site (or at least locally), send no waste off site, and use only locally available water.

That not only calls for projects on the bases themselves, it also calls for a new level of community interaction. As one standout example, Fort Bliss has initiated a project to help solve the waste disposal problem of nearby El Paso by using it as feedstock for a solar hybrid waste-to-energy facility at the base.

Aside from installing solar energy, Fort Bliss is also looking to tap its geothermal potential. According to one recent study, as a group, DoD lands have enough geothermal potential to power military facilities and provide energy to the civilian grid, too.

Image: Fort Bliss, Boston Public Library, Flickr

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.


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