U.S. Army signs onto 20 MW solar farm, biggest in military

The Army base in Fort Bliss, Texas, has a goal of getting to net-zero energy. As part of that, it's about to build a 20 megawatt solar farm -- the biggest for the military to date.

It will power all division headquarters and most of the eastern sector of the sprawling complex, and is the first partnership between the military and a major local utility on a renewable energy project of this scale.

El Paso Electric is building the plant, which will come online in 2015. The Army also plans another 20 MW solar plant and pursuing wind and geothermal projects at the fort.

Fort Bliss already has a 1.4 MW solar solar array, the Army's second-largest, and 13.4 MW of solar PV on post rooftops, maintained by SolarCity as part of Project SolarStrong.

Other measures toward net-zero energy are making life better at the Army base. Fort Bliss has planted 14,700 trees and created biking and walking paths that wind through the complex.

In 2011, the U.S. Army announced that six bases would target net-zero energy, another six net-zero water and another six net-zero waste.

Fort Bliss was one of several basis that chose to target all three by 2020.

Recycling also has gotten a lot more attention on base, raising $1 million last year for projects such as skating parks and spinning bicycles. There's also been a dramatic drop in electricity use in post housing, Major General Dana Pittard said.

"Changing behavior and promoting a culture that encourages energy conservation are keys to achieving net zero," Pittard said in a statement. "And that is what we hope our soldiers will then take with them when they go on to other installations and move into society.

"The solar farm, along with our environment campaign plan, are both part of a larger effort to make Fort Bliss the most fit, most healthy, most resilient community in America that is environmentally sound and is best at preparing soldiers and units for combat."

Soldiers feel much more part of a community when they get outdoors. It's "no accident" that Fort Bliss has the Army's lowest suicide rate in the U.S., Pittard said.

"For us here, it has been a no-brainer," he said. "Now what we hope is that the rest of the Army sees that and will replicate it."

This article is reprinted with permission from Sustainable Business.

Photo of an electric car charging at Fort Bliss provided by the U.S. Army via Flickr.