Military deployment of clean technology accelerates

The Department of Defense — eager to reduce its dependence on oil and keen to become energy-efficient at home — has aggressively invested in clean technology. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, has made energy security and independence a cornerstone of his tenure.

“Power Surge,” a new report released Thursday by Pew Charitable Trusts, takes a look at how the military is partnering with private companies, including SunEdison, SunPower and SolarCity here in Silicon Valley, to scale solar on domestic military bases. According to Navigant Research, Pew’s partner for the report, 384 megawatts of installed renewable energy existed on Pentagon installations in mid-13. By the end of 2018, that capacity is expected to increase more than fivefold, to 2.1 gigawatts. Solar power and biomass are forecast to account for the vast majority of new renewable installations. And a stunning 80 percent of future DoD renewable energy projects will be financed through power purchase agreements that have private developers financing, building and maintaining the projects.

Silicon Valley cleantech companies have long known that the military is an ideal early adopter, willing to take risks on clean technologies, like biofuels, that may not yet be fully commercialized. And the Department of Defense is the largest institutional energy user in the United States, managing more than 500,000 buildings and structures at 500 major bases and installations around the world.

“The military’s clean installation initiatives are gathering momentum, enhancing base energy security,” said Phyllis Cuttino, who directs Pew’s project on national security, energy and climate. “These improvements are possible even as the Pentagon’s budget is shrinking because the armed services are harnessing private-sector expertise and resources.”

SunPower’s 13.78 megawatt solar power system at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake.




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  • Cl1ffClav3n

    The military’s complicity in throwing away taxpayer dollars on “green energy” have demonstrably hurt national security. Since the photo chosen to exemplify this achievement is the Navy’s solar farm at China Lake, let’s tell that story. We must begin with the Air Force solar farm at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

    This Air Force brief (Michelle R. Price. “Nellis AFB Solar Power System & Renewable Energy,” May 1, 2009. explains how more than $100 million of hardware was installed knowing it would generate only $1.2 million per year in electricity savings — an 83-year payback. It details how the scheme was 100% financed by taxpayers and rate payers, with no risk to private investors (financed 60% by federal taxpayers and 40% by Nevada taxpayers and Nevada Power ratepayers). It details how the land that belongs to US citizens was donated for free for 20 years, at which point the lease and the hardware will both expire. It is also worthwhile to note that, like all military “renewable” solar and wind energy projects, this steep purchase price did not include the necessary transfer switches and circuits necessary to be able to provide any power to the base when the municipal grid goes down — the solar panels have to be shut down if the city power goes down to avoid backfeeding power and endangering linemen doing repairs. There is thus zero energy security improvement, even though this is a stated purpose for these projects and is advertised to military and political leaders as a benefit. Also, 1/3 of the solar panels installed were Chinese, which was a forbidden use of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds spent in the project.

    The Navy liked this deal so much they hired the same contractor to install the same system in China Lake, CA, only they learned to hide the project costs with a leasing arrangement and PPA. Also, in both cases, the installers walked away and turned over operation of the systems to third-party contractors that have sinced changed hands several times. It was a Spanish subsidiary responsible for both sites for one iteration — so much for national security. And if these flighty contractors decide to walk some years before the PPA is up because they are losing money and don’t want to absorb the decommissioning costs, guess who will be responsible to clean up the mess.

    one of the hundreds of solar or wind or biofuel or LEED building projects financed by
    the military pass a business case test for positive ROI during their
    lifetime. All have prohibitive fixed costs that dwarf the positive
    margins of operation. Military civil engineers and public works
    officers and project managers have had to hold their noses and silence
    their consciences to carry out these projects.

    This flagrant waste of taxpayer money and giveaway of taxpayer land and corporate welfare for friends of the Administration would not be possible without people like the Navy’s Ray Mabus and Tom Hicks who know better, but are willing to hide the facts for career security — the only kind of security that is fostered by this abuse of taxpayers.

    The Navy Inspector General is one of many watchdogs that have only begun to scratch the surface of this scandal (The Department of the Navy Spent Recovery Act Funds on Photovoltaic Projects That Were Not Cost-Effective. Department of Defense Inspector General, September 22, 2011.

    The military’s abuse of taxpayers is just as bad in biofuels. The average price paid by the military since 2009 for biofuel has been $48/gal and the latest price paid for biofuel by the Air Force in March of 2013 was $59.00 a gallon. This past summer, while sequester and shutdown where raging, the Army closed the deal for a $7 billion contract award for vague “renewable” energy technologies, and the DOD and DOE and USDA are currently spending $510 million on new biorefineries as fast as they can write the checks to please their political master in the White House.

    We are looking at cutting Army Brigades and Navy Aircraft Carriers and Air Force A-10 squadrons because of the sequester, but that won’t stop the generals and admirals and secretaries from fire-hosing out taxpayer dollars to advance their careers. The beat goes on.