By: Jason Hayes, Editor-in-chief PSR News Intl. (www.psrnews.com)
If Army Major General Dana Pittard seemed to show just a hint of pride as he opened his April 5th press conference, he undoubtedly had reason. Pittard that day had the honor of announcing the Army’s historical move to build the largest single renewable energy installation in the U.S. military.
Pittard led off the announcement of the planned $120 million, 20 MW solar array at Fort Bliss, Texas by recounting the 10 km run he had enjoyed with soldiers and members of the surrounding community earlier that morning. Pittard noted that the solar project was intimately linked with a base wide initiative to improve the health and well being of his soldiers and to lead the country as the “most fit, healthy, and resilient community in America.”
He also described how the base wide commitment to a healthy, resilient community is related to the Army’s larger environmental and security goals of supplying 25 percent of energy demand with renewables by 2025 and a base goal of reaching “net zero” by 2018.
Despite a growing population at Fort Bliss, net zero goals are pushing them to become self-sufficient in three primary areas – energy, water, and waste. Given Fort Bliss’ location, on the border of New Mexico and west Texas, they have an abundance of sun and have, therefore, chosen solar energy as a primary means of achieving their renewable generation objectives.
This new installation will add to the 13.4 MW of PV solar that is currently distributed on roofs across the base. Looking out to the future, Pittard discussed plans to construct a second 20 MW solar project in the future and stated that future solar projects would be far easier and less expensive to permit and build as the bulk of the planning work would be completed with this initial project. He suggested that renewable energy developments across the military could then simply use the Fort Bliss project as a template.
A historical partnership
Pittard described the historical nature of the partnership to build this solar array with El Paso Electric by December 2015, noting that the project is the first time the American military has partnered with a local utility on the construction of a major renewable energy project. He also noted that, when completed, this endeavor would be the largest renewable energy project in the history of the U.S. military.
With sequestration never far from the headlines, Pittard was also well aware of the need for cost cutting. When cost questions were raised, he noted the project was designed to be “budget neutral” and stated that “very little of the (funding for the project) is taxpayer’s money.”
The published environmental assessment of this solar array notes that it will generate 73,000 megawatt hours (MWh) per year, representing 14 percent of the base’s current electricity usage. Pittard then quoted price expectations of $60.25 per MWh (inclusive of federal incentives), which compares to a national average electricity price of approximately $100 per MWh.
Recognizing that the construction of large-scale renewable installments still requires the presence of federal and state incentives to drive their growth, Pittard strongly stated his desire to see increased incentives. He provided the example of recent photovoltaic solar installations in New Mexico and Texas, noting that incentives in New Mexico allowed the construction of a 4.3 MW installation at White Sands, NM for the same cost as a 1.2 MW installation in Texas.
Just getting started
Not satisfied to rest on their laurels, Pittard also discussed plans to build wind, geothermal, and waste to energy generation in the future, and an overall plan to produce as much as 65 MW of renewable energy at Fort Bliss. When asked if he foresaw construction plans possibly placing Fort Bliss as a net supplier of energy back to El Paso Electric, he replied, “perhaps someday.”
Supplying a growing amount of green energy to his base – and possibly beyond – is a primary objective. However, net zero planning and goals ensure that there is more to this work than simply generating more. Conservation is taking on a primary role as well.
Media reports indicate that only a few years prior, Ft. Bliss had a single electric meter. One meter for an entire base meant that oversight of energy use was effectively impossible and individual energy use was unconstrained. With the installation of electrical meters throughout the base and mock billing used as an educational tool, soldiers are becoming aware of how energy is used in their daily lives and work. So energy awareness and reduced consumption is becoming far more commonplace.
Pittard reported that energy use around the base has decreased 22 percent. He is confident that decreased consumption and the move to renewable generation will help decrease their CO2 footprint and reduce their overall environmental impact.
As Pittard noted, the move to expand renewable generation is just one part of a larger effort to improve the health and well being of the entire base. It’s a long-term focus on pairing energy choices with community design measures, health and fitness goals, relationship building programs, increased recycling, and other measures to help create a sense of community wide well being.
As Pittard sees it, the “seeds have been sewn” at Fort Bliss and he notes that he would like to see this work replicated across the Army.