US Department of Defense Plots Renewable Energy Takeover

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The US Department of Defense has been an early adopter of solar power at its own facilities, especially out West where abundant space is available. Now the agency aims to deploy its buying power towards parts East. Earlier this month the DOD hooked up with the General Services Administration in a scheme to draw more renewable energy resources from a wide swath of the US, covering 65 million people in 14 Atlantic and Midwest states along with the District of Columbia, all with the aim of transitioning its facilities to 100% carbon free electricity.

DOD Hearts Renewable Energy

CleanTechnica has spilled plenty of ink over the Pentagon’s eagerness to push the renewable energy envelope since the early years of the Obama administration. Some of the activity has centered on military facilities that have room for on-site solar arrays. Other solar technologies, including foundational photovoltaic research, rooftop solar installations, portable solar devices, and solar-enabled microgrids are also in the mix (see more of our military coverage here).

The US military has also had a hand in fostering the emerging wave energy field, including the establishment of a wave energy test bed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Oahu.

Wind power has been a bit more of a mixed bag for the US military, partly due to complications arising from air traffic and weaponry operations, including nuclear missile silos. These concerns can result in adjustments to plans for constructing offshore wind farms as well as onshore projects.

Nevertheless, back in 2013 the US Army Corps of Engineers included 17 wind power contracts in a $7 billion soup-to-nuts renewable energy procurement round.

The new procurement plan takes it up to a whole new level by covering the entire PJM grid region, which covers all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

The new GSA plan indicates that more wind power is on the way, considering the massive offshore wind buildup taking place along the Atlantic coast.

In addition to sourcing electricity for defense agencies, the plan also covers other federal agencies in the PJM region.

GSA & DOD To Renewable Energy Haters: La-la-la-la-la We Can’t Hear you

We’re focusing on renewable energy here, though to be clear the GSA procurement partnership does not limit the DOD to wind and solar. In a press release announcing the plan, GSA and DOD use the phrases “carbon pollution-free electricity,” “clean electricity,” “clean energy,” clean, reliable, and affordable electricity,” and “locally-made clean electricity,” and “CFE,” meaning carbon free energy.

Whatever you call it, the plan tracks with President Biden’s 2021 directive for all federal agencies to procure 100% “carbon pollution-free electricity” by 2030, with a further stipulation that at least half of the demand is to be filled from local sources available 24/7.

That leaves plenty of space for renewable energy, with or without energy storage. In the renewables category that mainly means wind and solar, since geothermal resources are rather slim in the targeted region. For now, West Virginia is the only geothermal outlier.

The prospects for building whole new hydropower facilities in the PJM region are also rather dim, but repowering or adding on to existing operations is one pathway to increasing the nation’s store of carbon-free electricity. That includes adding pumped storage capacity, which is being talked up as a way to repurpose abandoned coal fields.

Nuclear energy, of course, also falls under the “carbon pollution-free” stipulation, though it’s unclear if the military’s budget would support expensive new nuclear facilities. Renewable natural gas could also have a shot if the “carbon pollution-free” stipulation does not pull the rug out from under it.

In that regard, note the careful wording of “carbon pollution-free.” That could leave room for coal and natural gas with carbon capture, but not much. Carbon capture and sequestration projects have failed to take root here in the US, partly because they are expensive and partly because they require new pipelines from the source to the storage facility, and nobody wants a new pipeline in their backyard.

Further clouding the picture are oil stakeholders (looking at you, ExxonMobil), which can deploy sequestered carbon to enhance the output from oil wells.

Capturing and recycling carbon from industrial operations into cement and other products is another way to sequester carbon without the oil extraction angle, so stay tuned for more on that.

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Here’s What The DOD Really Thinks About Renewable Energy

Along with its new grid-wide plan for pumping up its clean power profile, the DOD also has a message about the climate crisis for the party of “Support our Troops,” which continues to ignore the looming catastrophe even as the Defense Department advocates for urgent action on climate change.

“Two years ago, when President Biden signed Executive Order 14057, we knew DOD would be a big part of demonstrating U.S. leadership by greening federal government operations,” explained Brendan Owens, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations, and Environment. “Today’s announcement will help facilitate grid transformation to address the climate crisis and to provide clean, reliable, and affordable electricity that ensures mission resilience for DoD operations.”

Owens dipped into more detail about the Defense Department’s climate adaptation plans last April, in his 2023 Earth Day presentation at the Pentagon.

“…we are committed as a department to protecting our planet, and ensuring health and safety for our people,” Owens said.

“Key advancements in energy resilience, environmental stewardship, pollution prevention research and cleanup, and climate resilience will help us confront some of the greatest challenges the department is facing,” he explained. “Military facilities must adapt to an increasingly challenging threat environment. Improving energy resilience and reliability is key to that adaptation.”

As for renewable energy, Owens used the occasion to draw attention to the space solar field, which is probably the ultimate Defense Department renewable energy project.

Space solar seemed a little pie in the sky when we first heard about it, but back in 2009 the US Naval Research Laboratory surveyed the technology and concluded that the hardware is available to capture renewable energy from orbiting solar arrays in space, and beam it down to receivers on Earth.

Much has happened since then, including a possible contribution from the US Space Force in the form of an advanced orbiting transmitter, so stay tuned for more on that.

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Photo (cropped): “Brig. Gen. William H. Kale III, Air Force Civil Engineer Center commander, speaks at the Edwards Solar Enhanced Use Lease Project ribbon cutting ceremony at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Feb. 2, 2023. This project is the largest private-public collaboration in Department of Defense history” (U.S. Air Force photo by Adam Bowles).

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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