Reality Check for DoD Energy – And Its Big!

While there has been much excitement about the sheer size of the Pentagon’s plans for deploying renewable energy, a recent study from DoD’s Office of Installations and Environment on solar applicability on bases in the California, Colorado and Nevada bases offers both optimism and caution for deploying solar in DoD agencies.

Of specific interest, 7000 megawatts (MW) of solar energy (about seven nuclear power plants) can be produced on only four military bases located in the California desert. This is enough energy to meet two thirds of the current DoD wide electricity consumption.

DoD Energy - "We have the Land & the Demand"

The year-long study, conducted by the consultancy ICF International, looked at seven military bases in California and two in Nevada including Fort Irwin, Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, the Marine Corps’ Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range, Edwards Air Force Base, Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms and Naval Air Facility El Centro.

It finds that, even though 96 percent of the surface area of the nine bases is unsuited for solar development because of military use, endangered species and other factors, the solar-compatible area is large enough to generate more than 30 times the electricity consumed by the California bases, or about 25 percent of the renewable energy that the State of California is requiring utilities to use by 2015.

The caution here is that assumptions are routinely made about the land-mass that is available on military installations and extrapolations to solar energy market size without any regards to mission compatibility with base question. This includes missions such as live ammunition training, maneuver training, test and evaluations and a multitude of other vital activities.  This study shows the fallacy of making high level extrapolations of land-mass-to-market size for the renewable energy industry.

According to the study, the largest amount of economically viable acreage is found at Edwards Air Force Base (24,327 acres), followed by Fort Irwin (18,728 acres), China Lake (6,777) and Twentynine Palms (553 acres).  ICF found little or no economically viable acreage on the other California bases (Barstow, El Centro and Chocolate Mountain) or the two Nevada bases because the military’s use of the land is incompatible with solar development.

As usual with any military renewable energy report, the study finds that private developers can tap the solar potential on these installations with no capital investment requirement from DoD, and that the development could yield the federal government up to $100 million a year in revenue or other benefits. Private developers can draw on California incentives and subsidies to make these projects economically feasible. But in places like Texas where there are no state subsidy programs and bases pay a blend rate of $0.05/kWh, the solar viability extrapolation may result in a much smaller market unless DoD can find common ground with developers on providing monetary benefits for energy security. More on this in my next blog.

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