Crazy, right? Last week the US Navy announced that it will be hooking up with a massive new 210 megawatt solar energy buy, the largest ever of its kind by any federal agency, but that’s not what caught our eye. Here’s what caught our eye: the new agreement is apparently the first ever to tap into the solar energy purchasing potential of something called the Western Area Power Administration, which is the federal agency historically responsible for marketing more than 10,000 megawatts of hydropower to 15 western states.
Not for nothing but that hand in the photo below belongs to solar fan and Navy Secretary Ray Maybus, also known for his no-holds-barred advocacy for biofuels, marine energy, and climate change action, who highlighted last week’s presser by signing a solar panel.
US Navy Solar Energy And Three-Dimensional Chess
To get a grasp of the significance of the new project, consider that last year the Obama Administration provided the Department of the Navy with new and creative ways to get its hands on biofuel, despite opposition from the snowball guy and all the other usual suspects in Congress (okay so Republicans in Congress).
The new Navy solar energy buy looks like it’s coming from the same strategic place, only applied to solar. You can also check out the US Army’s new Office of Energy Initiatives for another angle on how the Obama Administration is circling around obstructionists to deliver more solar energy to military installations.
Where were we? Oh, right. As far as we know this is the first time ever that Western has ever hooked up with another federal agency for a solar energy project, which is a significant — and logical — step in a new direction for federally administered power projects. Think hydro projects compared to solar projects in drought-stricken California and elsewhere in the US, and we’re thinking this is just the first of many more Western-enabled solar projects to come.
This one is no demo project — as we mentioned up front, at 210 megawatts the new facility will be the largest ever purchase of solar energy by any federal agency.
Note: Western also markets energy for the Navajo Generating Station coal power plant.
US Navy Gets A Piece Of World’s Largest Solar Energy Facility
The new solar energy buy involves a project in Arizona north of Phoenix, called Mesquite Solar 3. If that rings a bell, you’re probably thinking of Mesquite 1, located north of Phoenix, Arizona. Our sister site Planetsave took note when Mesquite Solar 1 began producing power back in 2013. At 150 megawatts (MW), it was the first phase of a planned 700 MW facility that includes Mesquite 3.
We’re not quite sure what happened to Mesquite 2 (we’ll provide an update when more details come in), but now we have Mesquite 3, which is a 210 MW installation to be built by the energy company Sempra US Gas & Power.
Construction begins like now and completion is expected in 2016, so they’re not letting any grass grow under their feet.
The origin of the deal goes back to 2014, when the Department of the Navy teamed up with Western for an interagency agreement, which handed the solar energy ball off to Western. We’re wondering if those solar obstructionists in Congress had any clue that this was all going on until last week’s announcement, because the agreement let the Navy drift behind the curtain during the contractor selection. Western, not the Navy, issued the request for proposals and ultimately selected Mesquite Solar 3.
Here’s the rundown from the US Navy:
…More than 650,000 photovoltaic (PV) panels on ground-mounted, horizontal single-axis trackers will be installed, providing a third of the energy needed to power 14 Navy and Marine Corps installations. Construction of Mesquite Solar 3 begins this month and Sempra U.S. Gas & Power expects the project to be complete by the end of 2016.
In addition to the energy security benefits to the DON, the Mesquite Solar 3 project will help the 14 installations comply with California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. At 210 MW, the solar facility will contribute 21 percent of the power needed to meet Secretary Mabus’ goal of bringing one gigawatt of renewable energy into procurement by the end of 2015.
Here’s the infographic version:
Not for nothing but didn’t we just say that this will most likely be the first of many such projects for Western? Well, perhaps we should not have hedged. Here’s Western Senior VP Ronald Moulton to make things perfectly clear:
…We look forward to facilitating similar agreements with other Federal agencies, helping them meet their renewable energy goals, and building more partnerships for powering the energy frontier.
The complete list of 14 Naval facilities to receive solar energy from Mesquite 3 is available from the Navy (here’s that link again).
Right Back At You, Climate Change Deniers
Maybe it’s just us, but we’re thinking that last week’s press event was deliberate poke in the eye to all those snowball-throwing solar obstructors out there.
The presser could have have been staged anywhere among the 14 Navy and Marine Corps installations slated to receive solar energy from Mesquite 3 but it wasn’t. Instead, somebody thought it would be a great idea to tap one of the federal government’s signature facilities for game-changing innovation, Naval Air Station North Island, aka “the birthplace of Naval flight.”
That location provided some extra punch to Navy Secretary Maybus’s comment on the project:
The collaboration on Mesquite Solar 3 is a triumph of innovative problem solving, and will help to increase the DON’s energy security by diversifying our power portfolio and improving energy efficiency. This agreement is also projected to save the DON at least $90 million over the life of the project.
Who could hate it? Well, we can think of a few folks, so stay tuned.
Also, for those of you keeping score at home that’s 210 MW direct current.
Photo credit (cropped from hi-res version): Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Armando Gonzales via US Navy; Infographic by Austin Rooney via US Navy.