Army to Enlist Private Sector for $7.1B in Renewable Energy Projects

The U.S. Army has high hopes of using renewable energy to fulfill a quarter of its energy needs by 2025. But it can't get there without adding large-scale renewable energy projects to its arsenal, so the Army has launched a special task force to enlist the private sector for the challenge.

The Energy Initiatives Office (EIO) Task Force will be operational by Sept. 15 to engage the private sector in identifying and investing in big green power projects that may be built on the Army's vast land holdings.

"Through that office we intend to work very hard with the private sector," said Army Secretary John M. McHugh during a conference call with reporters Wednesday. "It will serve as a one-stop shop to allow the private sector to come and find opportunities for partnership in a variety of renewable energy and alternative energy programs."

And the project has a budget only the military could procure: McHugh said that in order to meet its energy security measures, the Army expects to invest $7.1 billion in the task force in the next 10 years.

The federal government is the nation's largest energy consumer, accounting for about 1.5 percent of use. And the Department of Defense is the biggest driver behind that energy consumption, responsible for about 80 percent.

"The Army (uses) about 21 percent of that 80 percent, so we view ourselves as a target-rich environment in terms of trying to a better job with taxpayer dollars, trying to do a better job in our stewardship of the environment, and perhaps most importantly, in terms of force protection and doing a better job of reducing our reliance on traditional fossil fuels," McHugh said.

He described a partnership between the Army and private sector as a win-win situation. The Army would get access to locally produced clean energy, likely at a fixed price.

"For the private sector, it's a guaranteed customer and opportunity to sell excess power to the outside grid," McHugh said.

Partnering with the private sector ensures the projects will have a strong business case for all involved parties, said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment. The EIO Task Force, which is to be staffed with the Army's own renewable energy and financing experts, would focus on streamlining approval and execution for projects in the 10 megawatt-range.

"One of the challenges we have consistently seen is comments that the Army is difficult to deal with and that there are logistical challenges in advancing the projects," Hammack said.

The Army has 126 renewable energy projects underway right now, including a massive solar energy installation at the Army's Fort Irwin base in California, which McHugh said would cover land equivalent to the size of Manhattan.

"We do have a number of bases, Fort Bliss and others, that have we think very promising opportunities for the private sector," he said. "What we're hoping of course is the private sector will help us identify those opportunities that perhaps we haven't looked at as creatively as we'd have liked."

Image CC licensed by Flickr user U.S. Army Environmental Command.