A solar project at the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada
The U.S. Department of Defense plans to open up 16 million acres of its land for renewable energy development, which it hopes will create a boom of solar, wind and geothermal projects and provide clean power to military bases, the department announced Monday.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed a memorandum of understanding to work together on promoting renewable energy generation projects on public land that has historically been restricted for military uses. About 13 million of those 16 million acres are located in western U.S., where a lot of solar, wind and geothermal power development already has been taking place on private and other types of public land.
The administration has been making a strong push for renewable energy development by funding both technology research and power generation projects since the President Obama took office in 2009. The administration wants to accomplish two key goals by supporting renewable energy: creating jobs and finding alternative, cleaner and more abundant power sources domestically.
Last month, Salazar unveiled a roadmap for speeding up solar power project development on 285,000 acres of public land in six western states. we\
The government support for renewable energy has indeed propelled the development of advanced materials and equipment and the construction of some of the largest solar power plants in the country. It also has attracted vocal critics, notably Republicans, who have used the bankruptcy of government-funded solar panel maker Solyndra last fall to accuse the administration of political favoritism and mismanaging public money.
The Monday announcement by the Defense and Interior departments involved not only land set aside for the military but also offshore locations near military installations. The goal is to promote onshore and offshore energy projects, such as erecting wind turbines in the sea.
The MOU calls for the military and the the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management to run a pilot project to oversee solar power plant development at military bases in Arizona and California.
The military has been vocal about its support of renewable energy, from electricity to transportation fuels, that it says will help it become more self-sufficient and reduce its vulnerabilities in the battle fields.
The vast majority of the military bases rely on power from nearby utilities, and they depend on backup generators during blackouts, said Dorothy Robyn, deputy under secretary of defense for installations and environment, during a conference call on Monday. The military is keenly interested in creating “microgrids” for its bases. A microgrid is a mostly self-sufficient base of power generation and storage, which allows for banking the electricity (using batteries or other technologies) for later use. A microgrid can still be connected to the regular electric grid, but it will take power from local utilities only when its own power plants aren’t able to generate enough to meet the demand.
“Renewable energy will allow a military base to maintain critical operations for weeks or months if an electric power grid goes down,” she said.
The military wants to attract developers and private investments for building solar, wind and other renewable electricity power projects on its land. It plans to lease the land to developers and buy some or all of the power from each project for its own use, and any unused power will be sold local utilities, Robyn said. Each of the military services plans on getting 1 gigawatt of renewable energy installed near its bases by 2025.