Army moves forward with $7B renewables plan

Source: Annie Snider, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Army expects to begin putting large-scale renewable energy projects out to bid within the next six months as it aims to get a quarter of its energy from alternative sources by 2025, a top official said yesterday.

Earlier this month the Army prequalified 17 wind energy companies to vie for renewable power contracts that could be worth a total of $7 billion. The service has also prequalified 22 solar technology contractors and five geothermal firms. It is expected to make the final set of prequalifications — for biomass — soon.

“We are making progress on all fronts,” Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment, said in an interview yesterday.

Each of the military services has committed to deploying 1 gigawatt of renewable power on its bases. That is enough to power 250,000 homes.

The Defense Department’s alternative energy push is driven not only by an executive order that requires all federal agencies to turn to green power, but also by reliability and security challenges at its installations. Bases, which get 99 percent of their power from the civilian grid, are often located at the end of the line, vulnerable to interruptions by everything from terrorist attacks to bad weather (Greenwire, Jan. 16, 2012).

Hammack said that as the service looks to build out renewable energy production at its bases, its leaders are thinking about ways of designing projects that provide an energy security benefit not just to the military base, but also to the surrounding community.

“One thing we’re contemplating in closed-door conversations with the White House is the ability to use Army lands to generate power that would be only sold on the grid,” Hammack said. “Should the grid go down and we have the ability to generate excess power on the Army base in a secure environment, it could then be provided to assist the community in a recovery effort.”

But turning such an idea into reality depends on a number of factors, Hammack said. First, the Army would need to have enough of the right sort of land — such as environmental buffers or noise buffers — that could be used for a project. Second, specific types of wiring would need to be in place (Greenwire, Jan. 27, 2012).

Under those conditions, Hammack said, well-planned projects could provide a critical boost.

For instance, she said all of the current power plants on the island of Oahu in Hawaii are located at sea level, making them vulnerable to storms. The Army is talking with the island’s sole power utility, Hawaii Electric Co., about putting a biodiesel plant on one of its inland installations that would have more than enough capacity to power the base and a nearby hospital during an emergency, she said. The extra power could then be used to help restart other power plants on the island in the event of an emergency that took them offline — a concept called “blackstart capability.”

“When you work in close concert with the utility, you’re able to use it as an asset for the utility on the grid,” Hammack said.