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Military goes all in for renewable energy in Idaho and beyond

Sheep Rancher John Faulkner of Gooding has always been watching for new revenue sources that can add to his traditional lamb and wool markets.

He testified a week ago against a bill that would place a two-year moratorium on wind power projects in Idaho. Faulkner knows about the fight Idaho Power and other utilities have with wind developers.

He told a House Committee he didn’t want to get in the middle of that fight. He had tangled with Idaho Power Co. before when he wanted to build a small hydroelectric power plant and sell them the power. The long court fighting was maddening.

But he now sees a new opportunity. The military is aggressively pursuing renewable energy projects. Faulkner wants to build a wind plant, he said and sell the power to Mountain Home Air Force Base.

The military is turning to renewables to ensure they have power when they need it. All of the 34 most critical assets of the Department of Defense require electricity, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report found. Of those, 31 rely on the commercial power grid.

In 2011, the Air Force operated 85 renewable energy projects on 43 bases with 30 megawatts of power capacity. And it had 31 projects in the pipeline, including a geothermal well at Mountain Home it is developing with the help of the Idaho National Laboratory.

The Air Force is not alone. Just last month the U.S. Army issued a draft request for proposals to purchase $7 billion of renewable and alternative energy through power purchase agreements for terms of up to 30 years.
The government doesn’t want to run the plants, they just want to buy the power. That means that taxpayers will only be paying for the energy, not the maintenance or other costs.

They are looking at solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal. But the military also is big into energy efficiency programs as well.

Some of these contracts are for big guys. Others are reserved for small business. The idea is to have a diverse source of power that is not tied to the grid and not dependent on fuels tied to foreign policy like oil.

This “NetZero” initiative is designed to develop 30 Defense facilities that are not on the grid by 2030.

Part of this initiative is due to the military’s long terms concerns about the effects of rapid-climate change on world security. That’s why, for instance, the Air Force is also aggressively pushing for renewable alternatives to jet fuel, just like commercial airlines.

In fact, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are looking at a national security strategy based on sustainability.

That means ranchers like Faulkner and Idaho farmers may have a whole new array of markets for a new generation of energy products.