Renewable Energy Boom Underway at U.S. Military Bases
The number of renewable energy projects at U.S. military bases rose from 454 in 2010 to 700 in 2012, an increase of 43 percent, according to a new study by thePew Charitable Trusts.
Approximately 384 megawatts of renewable energy capacity exist in Defense Department installations as of 2013. Of this total, almost 45 percent comes from a geothermal energy plant at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif. The Pew study, released Jan. 16, notes that solar energy, which currently provides 125.5 megawatts, is the second-largest component of the military’s deployed renewable energy, accounting for 33 percent of the total.
An Obama administration policy directs the U.S. military to deploy 3 gigawatts — enough to power two to three million homes — of renewable energy, including solar, wind, biomass and geothermal, by 2025. It appears that the military is on a path to meet that goal, new data suggest.
Energy consulting firm Navigant projects that 322 megawatts of additional renewable energy capacity is in development at military bases and will be added over the next 24 months, bringing capacity to 706 megawatts. Of the capacity under development, 64 percent is solar photovoltaic, 20 percent is wind energy, and biomass projects will account for 9 percent.
Looking ahead, almost 1.4 gigawatts could come on line over the next two to five years. If all projects in the pipeline come to fruition, the Defense Department’s capacity would increase to 2.1 GW, and by the end of 2018 would be on track to meet its goal of deploying 3 gigawatts by 2025. Solar power accounts for 68 percent and biomass for 16 percent of anticipated renewable energy capacity.
Pew analysts said the Pentagon’s clean energy initiatives are gathering momentum, due in part to its significant reliance on the private sector and third-party financing. “In the coming months and years, the department’s energy consumption will decline, renewable energy capacity will grow, and deployment of microgrids will expand,” said the Pew study, titled “Power Surge: How the Department of Defense Leverages Private Resources to Enhance Energy Security and Save Money on U.S. Military Bases.”
Honeywell Corp, for instance, has a 20-year energy savings performance contract at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., that will save $170 million. SunPower has a 20-year power purchase agreement at Navy Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif., that will be the Navy’s largest solar system. The Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Ga., is saving $1.3 million annually by using landfill gas and is an Environmental Protection Agency Energy Star Award winner, the study noted. Sun Edison, through a 25-year partnership, is building a 14-megawatt solar array at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona that is estimated to save $500,000 annually. Tooele Army Depot in Utah installed a 1.5 megawatt wind turbine in 2010 that reportedly saves more than $200,000 per year in energy costs.
Turning over these projects to the private sector guarantees that there will be enough energy cost savings to pay for the project over the term of the contract, the report said. The value of energy saving performance contracts across the armed forces has increased from $277 million in fiscal year 2010 to over $411 million in 2012. Overall, third-party financing for energy efficiency projects totaled $459 million in fiscal year 2012.
Power purchase agreements rely on private developers to finance, build, and maintain projects. At least 80 percent of future Defense Department renewable energy projects will be financed by these agreements, said the Pew study.
Analysts warned, however, that the military’s green-energy boom will be modest by industry standards. Developing power purchase agreements is a relatively new endeavor for the military, which also must undertake extensive environmental reviews and work within government requirements, the study said. “In light of the military’s detailed processes and necessary due diligence, it can take years to put into place energy saving performance contracts and power purchase agreements.”
It is likely that the military will meet its goals through medium-sized projects, rather than many small initiatives or a few mega-deals. “While there is potential to develop 500 megawatt projects on military bases in the Southwest, for example, no initiatives have been completed to date,” the study said. “In contrast, there are more medium-size, 10-20-megawatt projects that are installed or in development on Army, Navy and Air Force bases.”