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Army solar power
Courtesy of US Army

Solar Energy

How The Army Solar Power Program Is Like The Affordable Care Act

Fresh on the heels of breaking ground on its largest-ever single solar installation of 18 megawatts (MW), the Army solar power program is upping the ante with “Georgia 3×30.” Like the name says, that’s not one but three new 30-MW projects, for Fort Stewart, Fort Gordon, and Fort Benning. Once those arrays are up and running, a whopping 18 percent of the energy consumed by the Army in Georgia will come from on site, clean, renewable, sources. Good, no?

Army solar power

Courtesy of US Army

The Army Solar Power Program And The ACA

As for the hate thing, that’s why we’re dragging the Affordable Care Act into this, so bear with us for a bit.

Who could hate health care reform that actually works? The ACA is far from perfect (as if such a thing exists), but despite the generously funded efforts to whip up public sentiment against the reforms over the past four years, now they are in place, and millions of Americans are benefiting from them.

As a result of the real life impacts of ACA, while public opinion polls still track against the ACA brand, opinion has shifted in favor of the law’s benefits, to the extent that Republican opponents are beginning to back away from leveraging their  mid-term campaign strategy around repealing ACA (that’s okay, they still have #Benghazi!).

Meanwhile, Democratic candidates are shedding their reluctance to campaign on ACA, a major public policy achievement for which their party can claim as its own.

Now apply that dynamic to the intense Republican pushback against renewable energy, and you can see the parallel to the ACA. Despite all the anti-renewable rhetoric from the Republican side of the aisle, the Army solar power projects are living proof that transitioning out of fossil fuel dependency is yielding real-life benefits.

For starters, there’s the falling cost of solar power, which Republicans can’t wish away. Then there’s the risk avoidance benefits of clean energy, which are unspooling in real time as more real people have been experiencing the real public health and economic impacts from the most recent string of fossil fuel disasters.

High-profile disasters are just the tip of the iceberg. Throw in the impacts of fossil fuel harvesting, including regional economic malaise (coal), declining property values (gas and oil fracking), public health hazards (more fracking), and even earthquakes (fracking wastewater disposal), and you’ve got more real people — and more eligible voters — who have a deep, personal interest in supporting clean energy.

The Koch Brothers, ACA, And Army Solar Power

We’re also dragging the ACA into this because of the Koch connection. The Koch brothers are already notorious for their enthusiastic funding of Americans For Prosperity, which played a key role in the supposedly “grassroots” campaign to prevent passage of the ACA back in 2010. The result was to whip anti-reform sentiment into a frenzied froth of hate culminating in a series of raucous town hall meetings in the summer of 2010.

As major stakeholders in the fossil fuel industry, the three Koch brothers (yes, including the “invisible” one), have also pumped millions into organizations feeding sentiment against public policies that support renewable energy. If you remember the publicity over the Solyndra bankruptcy hearings a while back, that’s a classic example of the way it works.

As for why it’s so important to undermine voter support for solar-friendly policies, check out the latest Koch strategy: a coordinated state-level, legislative attack on existing public policies that enable individuals to realize the full benefits of installing solar power on their property.

We’re going to go out on a limb here and guess that the Koch interest in anti-ACA activity has little to do with health policy, and much more to do with undermining voter support for Democratic and moderate Republican representatives who support clean energy policies.

More Army Solar Power For Georgia

That brings us right back around to the latest Army solar power announcement. If you follow this link, you’ll see it belongs to and not EITF is the Army’s Energy Initiatives Task Force, which launched in 2011 with the goal of ramping up Army solar power and other forms of renewable energy.

EITF is specifically focused on utility-scale systems constructed on Department of Defense property, as evidenced by the aforementioned Arizona project (at Fort Huachuca) and the new “Georgia 3×30” group.

If you haven’t been hearing howls of protest about EITF activities from the usual suspects, it’s probably because there is nothing to protest.  The funding mechanism is the now-familiar power purchase agreement, which involves no up-front investment by taxpayers.

To ice the cake, other EITF projects have involved significant cost savings for the Army, though for the Georgia projects there will be no change in utility rates.

The three projects do accomplish other important EITF goals regarding energy security for Army facilities, including supply assurance and long term affordability (to that we’ll add reducing exposure to price spikes).

The clean energy angle also dovetails with the Army Net Zero vision, in which environmental stewardship, community relations, and public health play key roles.

Along with Forts Stewart, Gordon, and Benning, partnering with EITF to get the projects off the ground are the General Services Administration and the utility Georgia Power. Groundbreaking will take place later this year and the three arrays will be operational in 2015.

So…how long do you think it’ll be before our friends over at Koch Industries go after the Army?

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Written By

Tina 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+.


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