Army to trade land for renewable energy

The Army said it has both a demand for renewable energy and the land that private industry needs to make large-scale generation projects viable. A new task forc...

By Jared Serbu
Federal News Radio

The Army wants its bases to be energy independent. The Army also owns millions of acres of land it’s not using at the moment. The service is hoping those two factors can get the attention of the renewable energy industry and attract billions of dollars in private investment.

A new task force of energy and acquisition experts the Army stood up Thursday will try to attract $7.1 billion in private investment over the next decade. That’s the amount of private capital the service estimates it will need to achieve its goal of getting 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Hitting that target would mean the Army would have to install the infrastructure to generate two million new megawatt-hours of renewable energy.

But getting into the business of building utility-scale solar and wind farms isn’t exactly in the budget right now.

Instead, the Army wants to use its existing real estate to finance the effort, said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment. Private companies would be able to build wind turbines, solar farms or other renewable energy projects on Army property. Varying arrangements would let the Army either become a guaranteed customer for the resulting electricity or accept the energy as an in-kind payment for use of the land.

“We’ve got the land and the demand,” Hammack said. “We have land we need to keep in the Army inventory for multiple reasons. Maybe we think we’ll need to build more housing 50 years from now, or we need to keep it as a buffer to make sure our noise doesn’t impact the community. One of the things we can offer a private developer is that land. In exchange, we will be a purchaser of their energy.”

In many cases, she said, the Army expects the solar, wind or geothermal facilities will end up producing more energy than the base hosting them actually needs.

“The developers will then have the opportunity to make money from selling energy back to the grid,” she said.”

The job of the task force will be to do the technical and administrative heavy lifting that staff at individual Army bases can’t handle on their own. A team of six full-time experts, plus other support staff across the Army, will set up contracts, handle due diligence on environmental reviews and try to make the legal and federal acquisition process more manageable for developers or utilities who want to bid on projects. “Right now, some projects have to go through local review, then regional review, then headquarters review,” she said. “Instead of having three different lawyers looking at a project, we’re trying to make sure these move forward in an expeditious manner.”

Hammack said individual Army garrisons are perfectly capable of handling small scale projects like rooftop solar installations on their own, and the task force will not try to get in the way of those efforts.

The Army is confident it can attract the private capital it needs to pull the projects off. The Army Corps of Engineers issued a request for information on the initiative earlier this year, and got three times as many industry responses as it expected.

Hammack said the Army’s Residential Community Initiative will serve as a model for the energy effort. In that case, the Army decided industry could do a better job of building and managing its on-base housing at a lower cost, and privatized the entire enterprise. An Army contribution of $2 billion in real estate equity resulted in an influx of more than $12 billion in private development dollars.

“So we know there’s some Army investment here, but some of it is land, it’s not cash,” she said. “We will have to put money into due diligence, doing the environmental assessments, putting together the requests for proposals. There is a logistics and acquisition piece to this that we are putting into our budgets to make sure we can support it.”

The Army has issued several requests for information outlining its basic plans for the energy projects. They’ll be fleshed out further when the service publishes its renewable energy execution plan this fall. The Army also plans to host a large energy summit in Washington on Nov. 3.

This story is part of Federal News Radio’s daily DoD Report. For more defense news, click here.

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