Tina Casey September 25, 2011, 1:57 AM 3097 27
The U.S. Army has embarked on an ambitious $7 billion series of utility-scale renewable energy projects.
The new program involves building twenty utility-scale renewable energy installations that rely on a mix of solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass power. The installations will be constructed on land owned by the Department of Defense, at Army bases throughout the U.S.
The program calls for the Army to use its land as equity to leverage about $7 billion in private investment for the twenty projects.
The Army’s goal is to provide its bases with reliable energy sources that are insulated from price spikes, shortages and grid disruptions. Aside from these energy security issues, reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are key goals.
Rather than paying up front for the installations, the Army plans to attract companies that would build the renewable energy installations in exchange for a commitment from the Army to purchase the energy.
This type of arrangement, called a Power Purchase Agreement, is common in the solar industry.
Since many base commanders do not have the resources to initiate or manage utility-scale energy construction projects (defined as about 10 megawatts or more), the Army has formed a new Energy Initiatives Task Force (EITF) composed of a small staff of experts who will assess projects, vet renewable energy companies, develop new technologies and streamline the approval process.
EITF was organized over the summer and officially announced that it was open for business on September 15.
At a recent roundtable discussion held for bloggers and reporters, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment Katherine Hammack described EITF’s mission as “unprecedented” in terms of size, and in terms of expanding the Army’s established acquisition procedures into new areas.
“We’ve got the land and we’ve got the demand,” said Hammack.
Hammack made it clear that the Army intends to use its normal acquisition procedures to push the program through.
“We are going to leverage all of the tools available,” said Hammack, which would include loans and technology grants as well as loan guarantees.
EITF’s mission dovetails with the Army’s recently announced Net Zero program, in which Army bases have the goal of consuming only as much energy and water as they can produce on site.
Fort Bliss, one of the Net Zero program’s pilot bases, recently announced a $1.5 billion investment program to install more than 140 MW of renewable energy facilities on the base, and reclaim more than 500 million gallons of water annually.
The first steps for EITF involve setting up new procedures and vetting 20 projects that are already in the pipeline. EITF’s goal is to have the first round of projects ready to go out for bid early next year.
EITF will also be working with federal research resources including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to identify promising new technologies.
Hammack noted that EITF is looking at all forms of renewable energy and has already received numerous contacts from the renewable energy industry regarding advanced technologies.
In recent years the Department of Defense has raised an increasingly urgent call for transitioning out of petroleum fuel products, as risks and expenses rise.
“We cannot serve and protect the citizens of the United States unless we have reliable access to energy,” said Hammack.