August 9, 2012

Defense, Interior Departments Join Forces on Renewable Energy

The Associated Press
Courtesy Photo

WASHINGTON, Aug. 6, 2012 – The Defense and Interior departments are teaming up to strengthen energy security and reduce military utility costs.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar have signed a memorandum of understanding that encourages appropriate development of renewable energy projects on public lands set aside for defense-related purposes and other onshore and offshore areas near military installations.

The memo sets out the guiding concepts for the Renewable Energy Partnership Plan, the departments’ roles and responsibilities under the agreement, and how they will work together to carry out the initiative. A goal of the partnership is to harness solar, wind, geothermal and biomass energy resources on or near DOD installations across the country, officials said.

“Developing renewable energy is the right thing to do for national security, as well as for the environment and our economy,” Panetta said. “Renewable energy projects built on these lands will provide reliable, local sources of power for military installations; allow for a continued energy supply if the commercial power grid gets disrupted; and will help lower utility costs.”

Salazar announced the agreement today on the eve of the National Clean Energy Summit.

“Energy security is critical to our national security,” he said. “Under our ‘Smart from the Start’ approach to spurring renewable energy development, we are making millions of acres of public lands and offshore areas available that have the greatest potential for utility-scale solar and wind projects and the fewest resource conflicts.

“Our nation’s military lands hold great renewable energy potential,” he added, “and this partnership will help ensure that we’re tapping into these resources with a smart and focused approach to power our military, reduce energy costs, and grow our nation’s energy independence.”

The Defense Department has been pursuing development of renewable energy on its installations to improve energy security and to reduce its $4 billion-a-year utility bill. Together with advanced microgrid technology, which DOD is testing, renewable energy will allow a base to maintain critical functions for weeks or months if the commercial grid goes down. Each of the military services has committed to deploy 1 gigawatt of renewable energy on or near its installations by 2025.

Defense installations encompass roughly 28 million acres in the United States, of which 16 million acres previously managed by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management were withdrawn for military use by executive order, congressional legislation or departmental regulations. About 13 million acres of these withdrawn lands are in the West and are high in wind, solar and geothermal resources.

Offshore wind also is an abundant renewable energy resource available to many coastal installations. Offshore Atlantic winds alone could produce an estimated 1,000 gigawatts of energy, Interior Department officials said.

The memo of understanding establishes a framework for an offshore wind partnership in which the Defense and Interior departments will continue to work together to identity areas most appropriate for offshore wind development. To encourage a dialogue with industry, the departments will co-chair a military/industry offshore wind forum this fall to initiate information sharing among the military, other federal agencies and industry.

The memo also provides a blueprint for cooperation to identify lands for mission-compatible development of onshore renewable energy projects on DOD installations. This includes withdrawn lands on military installations or on withdrawn land that could be appropriate for utility-scale solar, wind or geothermal projects, officials said.

Under the agreement, the Defense Department will explore ways in which renewable energy could be provided directly to a single installation or may be transmitted across a network of installations. Some larger projects could involve the sale of excess power to the grid, provided appropriate measures ensure base security.

Also, DOD and the Bureau of Land Management will develop a pilot process for authorizing solar energy projects on several military installations, including the Barry M. Goldwater Range and Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona and Fort Irwin, Calif. The Defense Department will take the lead in permitting and leasing for renewable energy projects on lands withdrawn for defense-related purposes.

The partnership will set up a working group on geothermal energy, continue to increase renewable energy production opportunities through the Interagency Working Group on Coordination of Domestic Energy Development and Permitting in Alaska, and use the Interagency Land Use Coordinating Committee process to resolve land management issues pertaining to withdrawn lands. The memo also stipulates that the Defense and Interior departments will continue the landscape level planning effort on the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan in California.

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