Army-Strong for Solar

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently selected the team of ACCIONA Solar Power and the Clark Energy Group to develop a massive solar energy project. The first phase alone consists of five sites over 21 square miles, which will produce a cumulative 500 megawatts (MW) of power at the Fort Irwin military complex, located in the Mojave Desert of California, an area with nearly the most hours of sunlight in the U.S. annually. In specific, Fort Irwin is located halfway between Los Angeles, which is approximately 245 km to the southwest, and Las Vegas, NV, nearly 290 km to the northeast. The base is the U.S. Army`s largest training ground and also houses NASA`s Goldstone Deep Space Communications center. This effort is in response to a federal mandate that requires the U.S. Army to reduce its energy consumption by 30 percent by 2015 with respect to 2003 levels and to cover 25 percent of its energy consumed with clean, renewable energy by 2025, which is analogous to the renewable energy portfolio standard for states.

The Fort Irwin project is part of the Army`s “Enhanced Use Leasing” (EUL) program, which is designed to allow outside partners to acquire and capitalize on the value derived from under-utilized non-excess real estate assets on Army and select Department of Defense (DOD) facilities. The facilities will be installed at five sites, which will be determined by Army technicians, whom will consider environmental and wildlife impact as well as water resources required by the project.

This will be the DOD’s largest military solar energy plant, and ACCIONA Solar Power and Clark Energy Group`s joint partnership will likely develop more than the initial 500 MW of solar power in phase one, since expansion plans allow for up to 1 gigawatt (GW) to be generated in later years. The project will require numerous concentrating solar power (CSP) solar dishes and more conventional photovoltaic solar panels; however, the technology options, and subsequently, the manufacturers have not been determined. It is likely that Stirling Energy Systems, headquartered in the Phoenix, AZ area, will vie for contention and possibly be at an advantage for this Army installation, since it is already is building a similar facility in the Mohave Desert and is a domestic company with solely U.S.-based manufacturing. However, ACCIONA is based in Spain and may favor a leading CSP provider such as Abengoa Solar, which is also based in Spain. In any case, the 14 MW solar plant at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and the 2 MW installation at Fort Carson, Colorado, are the DOD`s largest current solar power generating plants, which will be easily dwarfed upon completion of this new installation.

The intended clean energy facility is the result of a competitive bid process, similar to many green stimulus grants, which opened in March by the U.S. Army`s Senior Energy Council, a panel created in October 2008 to create a sustainable energy strategy designed to target alternative energy sources for achieving significant energy savings and enhancing energy security for U.S. Army installations, personnel, vehicles and other assets. One can only wonder how much the U.S. has spent on fuel costs to sustain military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, primarily supplied by foreign oil. Thus, the military is also ramping up research funding for ethanol and various forms of biofuels.

It is expected that the first phase will be finished by 2014 and upon full completion may even be the largest solar plant in the state. Any surplus electricity produced will be sent to the power grid for compensation via two high-power transmission lines in the vicinity of Fort Irwin, while the potential construction of a national smart grid will only enhance the power generating enterprise of this facility. What’s more, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into law several pieces of legislation, which will facilitate major capital projects of this nature in California in the future including the expansion of transmission lines on military grounds. In general, California has the most aggressive and lucrative incentives for clean energy than any other state. Thus, states such as Arizona, just on the other side of the Colorado River from California, with many of the same attributes for similar projects such as solar irradiance and numerous desert military bases and proving grounds, have not been on the receiving end of similar high-profile investments due to its tepid solar energy legislative framework. Amidst, California’s record-breaking budget deficit, the state has remained stalwart in approving green building and clean energy legislation, which is anticipated to spur a Solar Valley akin to Silicon Valley.

On a national level, upcoming federal legislation such as the U.S. Solar Road map Act and Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, which may be denoted as climate change legislation, may also germinate similar military solar plants throughout the country. However, the media is associating a pending climate change bill strictly as a countermeasure to global warming, which is being claimed as a false theory based on a recent study of data over the last decade. Yet, the climate change bill is designed to not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but to wean the U.S. off of foreign oil and to create a new clean energy infrastructure with a strong manufacturing base that will aid in economic recovery and lead to sustainable long-term growth. One could even argue that if Congress followed through with energy reform after the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act in June, prior to the health care debate, that it would have accelerated job creation faster and improved other economic indicators.

Posted from, San Francisco; October 22, 2009, Phoenix Green Business Examiner, Original Author Brian Coppa