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Published on April 8th, 2016 | by Tina Casey

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Nothing Can Stop Solar Now: Army Will Help Air Force Meet Clean Energy Goal

April 8th, 2016 by  


A few years ago, the US Department of the Army figured out how to rev up its access to utility scale solar without running afoul of the usual anti-solar suspects, and now the Army will apply its expertise to give the Air Force a leg up. The two branches of the armed services have just signed an agreement that will enable the Air Force to accelerate toward its goal of 25 percent clean energy by 2025, by tapping into the Army’s experience with private sector financing for onsite solar installations.

Army solar

Utility Scale Solar For The US Army

The Army established an Energy Initiatives Task Force back in 2011, after the Solyndra “scandal” brought the full wrath of the usual suspects down upon the idea that federal dollars should support the growth of the US solar industry. That would include virtually all of the Republican leadership in US Congress as well as various high profile pundits and of course, the Koch brothers.

Back then, the only way to get a solar installation on your Army base would be to pay for it out of the Defense Department kitty, which was virtually impossible under the prevailing anti-solar climate. Even without a ginned-up scandal in the mix, procuring onsite solar energy is a complicated effort, and that task fell on the shoulders of individual base commanders and planners.

Fortunately, some smart cookie in the Army figured out how to solve both problems at once. The Task Force was established to provide base commanders with an experienced solar team, so no need to re-invent the wheel with every installation. The Task Force also latched on to a new-ish financing tool in the solar industry called power purchase agreements, in which the solar buyer simply provides land (or a rooftop) for a solar company to install its goods. The buyer then pays off the cost by purchasing electricity (or its grid equivalent) from the installation, typically at a lower cost than its former utility bill.

With private sector funding in hand, and no dollars coming out of the taxpayers’ till, the Army effectively de-weaponized the Solyndra scandal. Ever since then, the Army has been launching utility scale solar on its bases hand over fist. The program was so successful that the task force concept was rolled into the permanent Office of Energy Initiatives (OEI).

Utility Scale Solar For The US Air Force

The Air Force has also been upping the game on solar. In the 1970s, it installed a model solar house at a Colorado facility, and fast-forwarding a few years it lead the pack on utility scale solar. In 2007 the Air Force installed the biggest solar array in country in its time, a 14 megawatt behemoth dubbed Nellis I, at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, so #thanksbush.

The Air Force’s renewable energy team has been busy since then, and just last year it upped the ante by breaking ground on Nellis II, which clocks in at 15 megawatts.

Air Force solar

The new agreement will team the Army with the Air Force’s newly established Office of Energy Assurance, which is tasked with this:

…the office will develop, implement and oversee an integrated facility energy portfolio, including privately financed, large-scale clean energy projects that will provide uninterrupted access to the electricity necessary for mission success.

That dovetails rather neatly with OEI, right?

The agreement is emphatic that the focus is on renewable energy:

The Departments of the Army and the Air Force share a common requirement to secure their installations with clean, reliable, and affordable energy.

That’s the short version of a much larger battle that the Defense Department has been waging with certain members of Congress who still tout the idea that “energy security” can be measured in barrels of crude oil.

Solar Is Huuuuuuuuuuge And Its Going To Be Huger

As the Air Force map indicates, the growth of military solar installations is positioned for rapid acceleration no matter who is Commander-in-Chief next year, or for many years to come.

That’s just solar, by the way. Until recently, the Armed Forces gave the stinkeye to wind energy due to concerns over radar interference among other issues. However, new technologies are beginning to break down those barriers, so you’ll see some wind projects on the maps above.

Geothermal and biomass are also on the maps. Not depicted on these maps, but still critical for the Defense Department’s future energy plans, are other clean tech initiatives including microgrids, energy efficiency and zero emission vehicles.

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Images: top via US Army, bottom via US Air Force.


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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+.



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