North America's largest solar system is housed at Nellis Air Force Base.

North America's largest solar system is housed at Nellis Air Force Base.

The United State Army’s newly introduced energy plan calls for the construction of what could be the world’s most powerful solar power plant and initiation of four additional pilot projects designed to reduce the Army’s dependence on fossil fuels.

New pilot projects: Announced in early Oct., the plan has established a Senior Energy Council, which will act as a kind of board of directors in administering and “leveraging the Army’s nationwide energy-conservation efforts.” These efforts will include the funding and development of five new pilot projects:

●    Construction of a 500 megawatt solar thermal plant – To be located at Fort Irwin in California’s Mojave Desert, this facility’s purpose is to provide energy security in case existing power supplies are interrupted, the Army says. To be constructed with the help of a private-sector firm that has not yet been identified, the plant will connect to a public grid and feed power to surrounding areas, as well as to the Army. Over 25 years, it is expected to save the Army $21 million and prevent more than four million tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the air. Construction will begin in 2012 and, when completed in 2014, the new plant will eclipse North America’s largest existing solar installation, housed at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

●    Purchase of 4,000 electric vehicles – Phased over three years, the new units will replace 800 maintenance and operations vehicles currently powered by fossil fuels at Army posts.

●    Establishment of biomass-to-fuel demonstrations at six Army posts – Each of these one-year tests will be carried out under a Defense Logistics Agency contract and will turn wood, cardboard and grass clippings into diesel or jet fuel.

●    Development of a geothermal project – Together with the Navy and civilian firms, the Army will develop a geothermal project at Nevada’s Hawthorne Army Depot that is expected to produce 30 megawatts of clean power annually.

●    Participation in a pilot energy-savings program – The Army and a civilian contractor will share in any savings derived from this program, which will act as a model for monitoring and reducing energy consumption. The Army says its newly announced pilots will take place concurrently with these other on-going initiatives:

  • Solar projects at Forts Carson in Colo. and Sam Houston in Texas.
  • Energy-management programs at Fort Hood in Texas.
  • Recycling programs at Fort Bragg in North Carolina
  • A photovoltaic-equipped housing project at Fort Shafter in Hawaii
  • A high-tech energy conservation project at Fort Lewis in Washington.

Chain of command: The Army’s newly established Senior Energy Council will be co-chaired by Keith Eastin, assistant secretary for installations and environment, and Peter Chiarelli, vice chief of staff. Responsible for overseeing and administering the Army’s many energy-conservation projects, the Council also will report on their status to Pete Geren, secretary of the Army. The guiding force behind the Army’s “energy enterprise strategy,” will be Paul Bollinger, deputy assistant secretary of the Army and its senior energy executive, Geren says, noting that Bollinger will head the newly established Army Energy and Partnership Office. The objective of the new leadership structure is to help the Army reduce its $3-billion-a-year energy bill, which Geren says is mostly attributable to its installations. According to Geren, the new structure will enable the Army to provide a “consistent focus on energy conservation,” oversight and more efficient management of its many programs so they “deliver the greatest return.”

Doubts surface: There’s no question the military needs to conserve energy. An Oct. 7 article in Danger Room, a Wired magazine blog that covers defense issues, uses Defense Newsstatistics to put DoD’s energy consumption into perspective. The article says the Defense Department is not only one of the world’s largest guzzlers of oil and gas – “slurping up ‘110 million barrels of premium fuel and 3.8 billion kilowatts of electricity at a cost of $13.6 billion’,” but also notes that “the stuff is ridiculously expensive: War-zone fuel prices can reach up to $400 per gallon.” The same article questions how effective the Army’s new conservation plan will be, calling the military’s energy-conservation efforts as a whole “uneven.” “For every promising, isolated effort – wind-powered bases, garbage-munching generators in Baghdad – there have been disappointments, too,” the Danger Room article reports, noting that “long-promised hybrid Humvees never materialized,” and that “urgent pleas from battlefield commanders for green power stations were negged by the Pentagon brass.” According to Geren, the purpose of the Army’s new Senior Energy Council is to prevent similar breakdowns from occurring within its new program. Only time will tell whether Bollinger, Eastin and Chiarelli can keep the program on track.