The Obama Administration is moving quickly to harness solar, wind, geothermal and biomass energy resources on or near military bases across the United States and on public lands.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed a Renewable Energy Partnership Plan on Monday ahead of the National Clean Energy Summit 5.0 held Tuesday at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Also Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced that seven solar and wind energy projects will be fast-tracked, including projects in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Wyoming. Once built, these job-creating infrastructure projects would produce nearly 5,000 megawatts of clean energy – enough to power 1.5 million homes.
The Department of Defense is pursuing the development of renewable energy to improve the energy security of its installations and reduce the department’s $4 billion-a-year utility bill.
“Developing renewable energy is the right thing to do for national security as well as for the environment and our economy,” said Secretary Panetta. “Renewable energy projects built on these lands will provide reliable, local sources of power for military installations; allow for a continued energy supply if the commercial power grid gets disrupted; and will help lower utility costs.”
Together with advanced microgrid technology, which the department is testing, renewable energy will allow a military base to maintain critical functions for weeks or months if the commercial grid goes down.
Each of the military services – Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard – has committed to deploy one gigawatt of renewable energy on or near its installations by 2025.
Defense Department installations cover roughly 28 million acres in the United States; 16 million of those acres were previously managed by Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and withdrawn for military use by Executive Order, congressional legislation or departmental regulations.
About 13 million acres of these withdrawn lands are located in the West and are high in wind, solar and geothermal resources.
Offshore wind is an abundant renewable energy resource available to military bases on the Atlantic coast, Pacific coast, Gulf of Mexico and in Hawaii. Offshore Atlantic winds alone could produce an estimated 1,000 gigawatts of energy, the secretaries said.
“Energy security is critical to our national security,” said Secretary Salazar. Under our Smart from the Start approach to spurring renewable energy development, we are making millions of acres of public lands and offshore areas available that have the greatest potential for utility-scale solar and wind projects and the fewest resource conflicts.”
Under the agreement, the two agencies will develop a pilot process for authorizing solar energy projects on several military installations in Arizona and California, including Fort Irwin, California, the Barry M. Goldwater Range in Arizona and the Yuma Proving Ground also in Arizona.
The agencies will set up a working group on geothermal energy, utilize the existing Interagency Working Group on Coordination of Domestic Energy Development and Permitting in Alaska, and use the Interagency Land Use Coordinating Committee process to resolve land management issues pertaining to public lands withdrawn for defense purposes.
“Our nation’s military lands hold great renewable energy potential, and this partnership will help ensure that we’re tapping into these resources with a smart and focused approach to power our military, reduce energy costs, and grow our nation’s energy independence,” Salazar said.
When President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, there were no solar projects permitted on public lands.
Since then, the Interior Department has approved 17 utility-scale solar energy projects, six onshore wind facilities and eight geothermal power plants – more utility-scale renewable energy projects on public lands than were permitted in the past two decades combined.
In total these projects will provide more than 7,200 megawatts of energy, enough to power around 2.3 million homes.
Going forward, seven nationally and regionally important solar and wind energy projects in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Wyoming will be fast-tracked, President Obama has ordered. These include the largest proposed wind farm in North America and one of the first large-scale solar projects on tribal lands in the United States.
Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs will coordinate one of the seven projects – the Moapa Solar Energy Center proposed by RES Americas in Nevada.
Developed in cooperation with the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians, it is located on a 2,000 acre site on the Moapa River Indian Reservation and on public lands in Clark County, about 50 miles north of Las Vegas.
The Moapa Band now lives in the shadow of the Reid-Gardner coal-fired power plant, which emits pollutants that are sickening residents.
Speaking at the National Clean Energy Summit, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, called Reid-Gardner a “dirty relic,” and said it should be closed.
“Each year for the last 47 years, more than 2.8 million tons of climate-changing carbon dioxide – not to mention thousands of pounds of toxins such as arsenic, mercury and lead – go up the plant’s four giant smokestacks,” Senator Reid told summit participants.
“About two football fields away from those smoke stacks lives a band of 300 Moapa Paiute Indians. Every day Reid-Gardner rains down on the dwindling Native American tribe fine particulates and coal ash filled with chemicals that cause cancer, emphysema and heart problems,” said Reid. “The soot – and the dangerous chemicals inside it – is literally killing the Pauites.”
The 200 MW Moapa Solar Energy Center would use 100 MW of photovoltaic technology and 100 MW of concentrated solar power technology. The target date for completing federal permit and review decisions is December 2013.
The six other projects to be fast-tracked by the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management are:
In Arizona, the Mohave County Wind Farm proposed by BP Wind is a wind-powered electrical generation facility that would be located on 38,099 acres of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, BLM, and 8,960 acres of land managed by the Bureau of Reclamation in Mohave County. If approved, it would produce up to 425 MW of wind energy. The target date for completing federal permit and review decisions is January 2013.
Also in Arizona, the Quartzsite Solar Energy proposed by Solar Reserve would be located on 1,675 acres of land managed by the BLM near the town of Quartzsite, known worldwide for its annual rock and gem show. The concentrating solar power plant would produce 100 MW of energy – enough to power about 30,000 homes. The target date for completing federal permit and review decisions is December 2012.
In California, the Desert Harvest Solar Energy proposed by enXco would place photovoltaic modules on 1,200 acres in Riverside County, producing about 150 MW of energy, enough to power about 45,000 homes. Target date for completing federal permit and review decisions is December 2012.
Also in California, the McCoy Solar Energy plant proposed by NextEra is a solar photovoltaic array that would be situated on 4,893 acres in Riverside County. It would produce some 750 MW of energy, enough to power 225,000 homes. Target date for completing federal permit and review decisions is December 2012.
In Nevada, the Silver State South Solar Energy project is proposed by First Solar for 13,043 acres of public land. It would produce an estimated 350 MW of energy using thin-firm photovoltaic technology, enough to power 105,000 homes. Target date for completing federal permit and review decisions is March 2013.
Silver State North in Clark County Nevada, near the town of Primm, began generating power in May, becoming the first solar project on public lands to deliver power to the grid. First Solar developed and constructed the facility using its thin film photovoltaic modules, and will operate and maintain the project for Enbridge, Inc. which acquired Silver State North in March.
And in Wyoming, the largest proposed wind farm in North America, the Chokecherry/Sierra Madre Wind Energy facility, would be built by the Power Company of Wyoming on 230,000 acres in Carbon County. It could produce up to 3,000 MW of wind energy, enough to power over a million homes.
Chokecherry/Sierra Madre is a multi-tiered decision process. A land use plan decision is expected in October 2012, followed by review of a series of right-of-way applications. The target date for completing federal permit and review decisions is October 2014.
The White House says additional expedited renewable energy infrastructure projects will be announced in the coming weeks.
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