By Mike Mulvihill
“We’ve got the land and the demand.”
That’s the catchphrase of the Army’s new Energy Initiatives Office, which was created to attract $7 billion in private investment to build 20 “utility-scale” renewable energy installations on Army bases.
These plants will generate a mix of solar, wind, geothermal and biomass power with the estimated 2.1 million MW of annual clean energy output guaranteed under long term Power Purchase Agreements between the Army and the investors – kind of an “if you build it, we guarantee we’ll buy it” approach.
The creation of the EIO will help the Army aggressively add multiple megawatts of clean energy by 2025 – the deadline to reach a goal of 25 percent renewable sourced electricity – while saving tax dollars. The initiative 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 by 2020. 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 US Army, Navy and Air Force are pursuing some of the most ambitious policies anywhere in the world because they want to cut costs and increase security. The US Navy plans to replace 50 per cent of its petroleum consumption with alternative fuels by 2015, and wants half its overall energy consumption to be sourced from alternatives by 2020. The US Air Force wants to wants to source 50 per cent of its jet fuel from alternative fuels by 2016.
The Air Force and the Navy have been busy testing their aircraft — everything from fighter jets to unmanned spy planes — on jet biofuel with excellent results. Together with the Departments of Energy and Agriculture, the Navy has launched a project to invest up to half a billion dollars in biofuel refineries.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus says he is committed to getting 50 percent of the Navy’s fuel for aircraft and surface ships from renewable sources by 2020 because dependence on foreign oil makes the U.S. military vulnerable. “We buy too much fossil fuel from potentially or actually volatile places on earth.”
The federal investment in biofuels will enable the Navy to reach its renewable fuel targets while creating a “snowball effect” that will kick start the advanced biofuels industry by enabling the industry to construct refineries and build sufficient scale to supply not only the military but also commercial airlines with biofuel.
It all sounds somewhat reminiscent of the ripple effect NASA’s moon efforts had on technology development and innovation. Perhaps we will someday look back on these military programs as having that NASA-like catalytic trigger to viable renewable electric generation and advanced biofuels industries.