Military Seeks Green Power, But Leaves Developers in the Dark

By Published On: January 25, 2008

Four branches of the military claim they plan to increase the amount of renewable power generated from the land they own. However, solar, wind and other renewable developers’ efforts to build projects are often stymied by opaque military ground rules. In a January 22 meeting of the Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative group in Sacramento, Tony Parisi, head of the military’s sustainability office, said that the Navy, Air Force, Army, and Marines were striving to make their land available for renewable projects that feed energy into the state grid. The success of alternatively-fueled projects, however, is contingent on their compatibility with the military’s mission. How that mission is defined is far from clear, according to renewable energy advocates. But it has not all been bad news for alternative energy companies. In the wind-rich Tehachapi region, the military and wind developers reached a deal that has allowed the replacement and expansion of wind farms. “We have had a great deal of success and basically got everything we wanted,” said Nancy Rader, executive director of the California Wind Energy Association. Other successes include wind projects on military lands in Kern and San Bernardino counties. After years of meetings, the local wind association was able to get the military’s air space limitation raised from 400 feet to 500 feet to accommodate new 3 MW turbines. Just last week, approval for eight new large turbines was granted, said Linda Parker, executive director of the Kern County Wind Energy Association. Under Executive Order 13423, issued last year, the military branches are supposed to boost their use of alternative power and increase their energy efficiency. Parisi, who is a member of the renewable initiative, was unable to say just how much juice was supposed to come from solar, wind, biomass, geothermal projects or specify the order’s efficiency target. Renewable development hurdles at or near military bases arise largely from air space limitations and military radar restrictions. Thus, for example, land at the Edwards Air Force Base and China Lake will be available only for solar projects, according to Parisi. Vandenburg is expected to make itself available only to successful wind energy bidders. The Sierra Army Depot in Northern California can only house wind, geothermal and/or biomass projects. Edwards, according to Parisi, is probably the closest to issuing a request for renewable proposals. However, the amount of renewable juice that may be produced there or at other bases is not known. Parisi said developers can get an initial assessment of whether a wind, solar, or other project may impact the military operations within a week or two. However, the next steps are often difficult and laborious. Successful developers generally get a lease for 50 years.

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