Army Not Favoring Utilities for New Development, Energy Officials Say

Several of the Army’s most recent awards for the development of new renewable energy projects have gone to local utilities, but the service continues to maintain a balance between projects awarded to utilities and private developers, its top energy officials said Wednesday at a Pentagon media roundtable.

In May, the Army announced plans to develop 30-megawatt, alternating current, solar photovoltaic arrays at three installations in the state — Forts Stewart, Gordon and Benning — with the Georgia Power Co. Less than one month earlier, officials held a groundbreaking for an 18-megawatt solar project at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

“So it sounds like we’re doing all our projects with utilities,” said Amanda Simpson, executive director of the Army’s newly established Office of Energy Initiatives (OEI).

“The bottom line there is that those projects moved through the process very quickly,” Simpson noted. “There is no particular emphasis from the OEI or the Army to work more with utilities.”

A number of awards the Army is preparing to announce in the near future, along with many now in the pipeline, will go to developers, she said.

Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary for installations, energy and environment, attributed the emergence of utilities vying for Army projects to a shift in thinking on their part. When the Army began a concerted effort in 2011 to develop large-scale renewable energy plants on its installations, some utilities feared the Army would be competing with them. But since that time, utilities have discovered the Army is a valuable partner, particularly because of the available space its installations offer for new development, she said.

“I think it is sort of an evolution in the understanding of renewable energy,” Hammack said.

Richard Kidd, deputy assistant secretary for energy and sustainability, echoed Hammack’s comments. “I think the story here is not a change in Army strategy. I think the story here is a change in utility behavior based on their perceived value of working with the Army,” he said.

Simpson emphasized that the Army is maintaining a balance between projects being awarded to utilities through an existing General Services Administration area-wide contract and those going to developers through power purchase agreements. From the Army’s perspective, the main difference between whether it partners with a utility or a developer is the kind of agreement employed.

“One is very quick because we’re leveraging an existing agreement; one takes quite a bit of time because we’re developing a new contract vehicle,” she said.

Dan Cohen
Dan Cohen
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