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DOD Study Describes Tremendous Potential for Solar Development at Mojave Desert Bases

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  • January 16, 2012
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Four installations in California’s Mojave Desert offer the potential to generate 7,000 megawatts of solar energy that could be profitably tapped by the private sector with no capital investment required by the government, according to a comprehensive feasibility analysis released Friday by DOD’s office of Installations and Environment.

The development could yield the federal government $100 million per year in revenue in the form of rental payments, discounted power or other in-kind consideration. Other benefits include reducing the department’s energy bill and installations’ dependence on the commercial electricity grid.

The year-long study, prepared by ICF International, found that only privately developed projects were economically viable. Paying for the projects with military construction funds is not viable, the consultant concluded, due to the costs of the technology and because the government can’t benefit from federal tax incentives.

ICF examined seven installations located in California’s Mojave and Colorado deserts — Fort Irwin, Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, the Marine Corps’ Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range, Edwards Air Force Base, Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms and Naval Air Facility El Centro — and two Air Force bases located in the Nevada desert — Creech and Nellis.

Only Edwards, Fort Irwin, China Lake and Twentynine Palms, however, contained acreage considered suitable, “likely” suitable or “questionably” suitable for solar development.┬áThe 532-page study concluded that a total of 25,000 acres across the four installations are suitable for solar power, with an additional 100,000 acres falling into the other two designations. ICF found little or no economically viable acreage on the other bases, principally because the military’s use of the land is incompatible with solar development.

For areas deemed compatible, ICF looked at the technical feasibility of six alternative solar technologies and at the economic viability under private versus military ownership. The economic analysis produced a number of conclusions:

  • large ground sites on the California installations are economically viable for photovoltaic (PV) technologies;
  • development on building roof sites is economically viable, but cannot make a large-scale contribution to the bases’ solar development compared to ground sites;
  • solar development opportunities on parking facilities are significant, but the added cost of metal parking canopies thwarts their economic feasibility; and
  • crystalline-silicon PV with single-axis tracking had the highest project investment returns, due to its combination of low installation costs and high electricity output.

While the study concluded that the solar potential available at the California installations “can be harnessed without impact on mission performance and can result in substantial value delivery” to DOD, it pointed out that to take advantage of the opportunity, the Pentagon “would need to develop a thoughtful program with the necessary funding, leadership support and capacity building to see it to fruition.”

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