Energy Security Proves to Be Elusive Benefit of Large-Scale Projects, GAO Finds

The military services typically cite energy security as a benefit of their large-scale renewable energy projects, but in a study of 17 projects across DOD, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that only a small fraction were designed to provide power to installations in the event of a disruption of the commercial grid without additional investments.

Only two of the 17 projects — a biomass plant at Fort Drum, N.Y., and a landfill gas facility at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga. — could provide electricity to the installation during a grid outage without additional steps, according to the GAO study.

Five others would require additional investments, such as the installation of batteries or other energy storage equipment, and the integration of those improvements to the electricity delivery and control systems. For example, a solar array at Fort Benning, Ga., would require an additional $30 million to $40 million in infrastructure for energy produced by the solar plant to be used during a grid outage. Similarly, the Navy planned to invest an additional $48 million in a solar array at Camp Lejeune, N.C., to achieve that project’s energy security goals, GAO said.

The documentation for five other projects did not clarify the specific energy security benefit or identified the energy security benefits more broadly, such as reducing the use of fossil fuels, according to the report.

And the remaining five projects did not identify energy security as a benefit or stated that the project would not enhance energy security. For example, a series of solar projects at Navy and Marine Corps sites in Hawaii did not enhance energy security due to the prohibitive cost.

The congressional watchdog agency also found that the services did not consistently estimate the value of the projects’ energy security benefits, a limitation explained by the lack of DOD guidance on how to document projects’ contributions to energy security. Officials from all three military department told GAO it was difficult to develop such estimates without guidance.

Marine Corps and Navy officials, for example, told the agency they were wary of estimating the value of energy security for a solar array at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., without specific guidance because they were concerned their valuation would be critiqued.

“Without guidance for estimating and documenting the contributions of renewable energy projects to DOD’s energy security objective, approving officials may continue to see inconsistent and incomplete project documentation and may approve the development of renewable energy projects without fully understanding the projects’ potential costs and benefits specific to energy security,” GAO stated.

Dan Cohen
Dan Cohen

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