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These 5 Department of Defense Solar Energy Projects Will Forever Change What Fuels America’s Military

Solar panels are vital for military success

In 2012, the Department of Defense announced its goal to deploy three gigawatts of renewable power and meet 25% of its energy needs with renewable energy by 2025 – enough to power 750,000 homes. Each armed forces department has separate timelines to reach their individual goals of one gigawatt of power (Air Force – 2016, Navy – 2020,  Army – 2025).

The Department of Defense intends to meet these goals without any additional costs to the taxpayer and aims to leverage private sector financing through authorities such as Power Purchase Agreements, Enhanced Use Leasing, Utility Energy Service Contracts, and Energy Savings Performance Contracts.

Below is a list of five innovative Department of Defense energy projects, listed in terms of energy power production.

1) Fort Irwin – Clark Energy Group and Acciona
Solar panels employed by the U.S. military

The Fort Irwin solar plant, located in the Mojave Desert, will cover more than 21 square miles (similar to the size of Manhattan) and produce more than 500 MW of power for the initial development plan with the potential of building of 1000 MW, making it the largest renewable energy project in the military’s history. Fort Irwin is utilizing an Enhanced Use Lease that allows private companies, in this case Clark Energy Group and Acciona Solar Power, to finance, construct, and operate a solar project in exchange for a long-term lease of Army land. In this case, Clark actually paid the US Army Corps of Engineers $150,000 for costs associated with its work on the project.


2) SolarStrong – SolarCity

Green technology is saving the military money

SolarCity’s five-year program, called SolarStrong, aims to provide privatized military housing across the nation with solar power. The program aims to provide solar power to up to 120,000 military housing units and create up to 300 MW of solar generation capacity—making it the largest residential solar photovoltaic project in American history.


3) Fort Bliss – El Paso Electric

U.S. military is phasing in renewable energy

The U.S. military will soon begin it’s largest installation at Fort Bliss, which will be completed by 2015. El Paso Electric, the local utility, will construct a 20-megawatt solar farm for the Army Corps of Engineers. There is also talk of another 20-megawatt contract with El Paso Electric coming. Fort Bliss already hosts the Army’s second-largest array (1.4 megawatt), and has installed a 13.4 megawatt rooftop solar array on housing posts. Their ultimate goal is to make Fort Bliss net zero –producing as much energy as it consumes. This, along with other projects, will help the Army achieve its security goal of having 25 percent of its energy come from renewable energy by 2015.


4) Nellis Air Force Base – SunPower

President Obama inspecting solar panels

The Nellis Solar Power Plant is the single largest solar photovoltaic system in the US. The installation includes 70,000 solar panels with single axis trackers across 140 acres, generating 14.2 megawatts of power (25 gigawatt hours of energy annually), and saving the US Air Force ~$1 million each year. The U.S. Air Force did not need to make any out of pocket expenses. Under the terms of the SunPower Power Purchase Agreement, MMA Renewable Ventures financed and owns the system, selling power to Nellis at a guaranteed rate for the next 20 years. The local utility, Nevada Power also purchased the system’s renewable energy credits (RECs) in order to meet its renewable portfolio standard (RPS).

5) China Lake – SunPower

Solar panels covering the landscape

SunPower installed a 13.78 megawatt solar photovoltaic power system at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California at the end of 2011. The system will reduce 30 percent of China Lake’s annual energy load and reduce electricity costs by ~$13 million over the next 20 years. The Navy is purchasing the power through a power purchase agreement (PPA) with no upfront costs. The installation was the government’s first solar power plant financed by a 20-year Federal solar PPA for energy for military installations. An affiliate of Metropolitan Life (MetLife) will be the owner of the plant that will be leased to a SunPower affiliate.


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Tim is a solar consultant with Sungevity, an international solar developer for residential homes. Tim previously worked for GreenOrder/Clean Tech Group and the United Nations Environment Programme. He graduated from Dartmouth where he studied economics and environmental studies. Tim enjoys snowboarding, rock climbing, and surfing.