Army on track to meet renewable energy goals — officials

Source: Annie Snider, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, October 10, 2014

After more than three years of a concerted effort to woo private financing for large-scale renewable energy projects on its lands, the Army says it is hitting its stride.

One example, leaders say: The Army recently turned a temporary energy initiatives task force aimed at smoothing the approvals process for renewable power projects into a permanent Pentagon office.

Amanda Simpson, executive director of the newly established Office of Energy Initiatives, acknowledged that her job is still not easy.

“Industry has their way of doing business and the federal government, particularly the Army and Department of Defense, have their way, and the two often don’t match up,” she said during a round table with reporters yesterday.

But, she said, in the last year alone, the Army — which manages broad swaths of land across the country, particularly in the sun-drenched Southwest — has cut the time that it takes to get a project over the array of bureaucratic hurdles by more than half.

The office currently has two large-scale renewable energy projects underway, seven in various stages of development and three more being released for proposals later this month, Simpson said.

Her boss, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment Katherine Hammack, said that the service is on track to meet its goal of producing or purchasing 1 gigawatt of renewable power by 2025. That’s enough energy to power roughly 750,000 homes.

From microgrids to EVs

Hammack, a former private-sector energy and climate expert, has spent the last four years leading the Army’s rethink on how energy requirements fit into its ability to train and fight and what “energy security” looks like at installations.

At bases, she said yesterday, there are three components to energy security and resilience: on-site energy, microgrids that allow managers to push limited power to the most important missions, and energy storage.

The focus, she said, primarily has been on producing on-site energy. There are also executive orders and other federal mandates driving the increase in renewable energy production and consumption.

The other two components are trickier. Hammack said that two Army installations currently have microgrid projects underway. Energy storage, she said, is a larger technical challenge best left to the private sector. The military is, however, experimenting with electric vehicles that can share power back and forth with the grid as a storage option (Greenwire, Feb. 5, 2013).

“We’re putting the pieces together, and we’re testing them in various pieces to test the energy security goals we have,” Hammack said. “We know we’re not all there yet, but we’re putting them together.”

The Army doubled its consumption of renewable energy between fiscal 2012 and 2013, leaders said yesterday, and is on track to again double it this year.

The largest federal solar project, being built at Fort Huachuca in Arizona by Tucson Electric Power, is on track to be completed next year (E&ENews PM, April 14). And the Army this spring announced plans for 90 megawatts of solar power at bases in Georgia being built and operated by Georgia Power, an operating utility of Southern Co. (Greenwire, May 15).

Utilities vs. developers

The recent spate of awards to utilities has raised some questions among developers about whether the service has a preference for working with utilities over private developers. Army leaders said yesterday that existing General Services Administration contracts with utilities can make things easier because they allow them to skip the negotiation process, but they said that the preponderance of awards to utilities was more a matter of coincidence.

In fact, Hammack said, it took some time to convince utilities that the Army wasn’t a threat.

“When we opened up the Energy Initiatives Task Force, there was concern by many utilities that we were going to set ourselves up as a utility in competition with the private-sector utility,” she said. “And I think utilities, what has kind of dawned on them is we can partner together.”

As utilities look to build new generation sources, she said, finding land can be a problem that the Army can help with.

Meanwhile, the Army is also moving forward as the largest federal adopter of Energy Savings Performance Contracts. Such deals have private-sector companies front the cost for energy upgrades like more efficient lighting and then get paid back through the savings that the upgrades bring.

In this fiscal year alone, leaders said yesterday, the Army has signed $319 million worth of such deals. Most are aimed at energy efficiency, leaders said, but water efficiency and microgrids have also been the subjects of such contracts, they said.