The U.S. Army's New Solar Power Plant

Why Uncle Sam is Building a "Green Coalition"

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted November 4, 2009

It's the same U.S. military that guards Persian Gulf oil routes.

And it's now becoming a force in renewable energy's worldwide expansion.

Far from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Department of Defense is setting its own target list to achieve energy independence for the Army's biggest bases.

First, California's Fort Irwin has just begun a multi-year march toward 1,000 MW in solar energy capacity and self-sufficiency from the desert sun.


Fort Irwin Goes Solar

No one would think you were crazy if you thought Fort Irwin — the Army's biggest training camp — was a Middle Eastern outpost. As a matter of fact, the Mojave Desert complex plays host to a sort of mini-Iraq, where hundreds of Iraqi actors are employed by DoD to accurately play out urban fighting scenarios soldiers may encounter during deployment.

Its 1000+ square miles of barren landscape also make Fort Irwin an ideal place to test aircraft, artillery, tanks. . . and even solar power.

In this map from the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), you can see that Fort Irwin's location smack-dab between Las Vegas and Los Angeles also puts it right in the middle of the country's highest average daily solar radiation: over 7,500 Watt-hours per square inch.

solar radiation map

Those conditions mean you've got to drink a lot of water during training exercises, and you can bet air conditioners are whirring all day long nearly year-round. . .

So the Army commissioned Irwin Energy Security Partners — comprised of Spanish energy and infrastructure company Acciona's solar power division and Virginia-based Clark Energy Group — to reduce the drain Fort Irwin exerts on local generators like Hoover Dam, and to bring a massive power supply improvement inside the base boundaries.

The Army's International "Green Coalition"

You may not expect to see Madrid-traded Acciona (MAD: ANA) on a roster of the U.S. ground force's top energy developers. But Acciona's North American operations, which include water desalination and wind power, give the Spanish company a firm domestic base that the Pentagon sees as favorable to its own efforts. Acciona North America has its headquarters in Henderson, Nevada, just outside Las Vegas.

For the Fort Irwin solar power project, Acciona has teamed up with Clark Energy Group, an energy services company based in Arlington, Virginia, just outside D.C.

Clark is able to navigate the bureaucracy and get Acciona's concentrating solar power (CSP) technology into the military power mix.

A combination of solar thermal power and photovoltaic (PV) technology will contribute 500 MW of capacity by 2022, at a cost of about $2 billion. That should make Fort Irwin energy-independent as far as electricity is concerned.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Army officials have hinted at selling some of that output to area grids — especially if the solar plant is expanded to a full gigawatt under the Army's Enhanced Use Leasing (EUL) program. The EUL is the military equivalent to Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangements that many emerging countries and cash-strapped cities have used to launch infrastructure improvements.

Under the EUL, which is administered in Baltimore, Irwin Energy Security Partners will lease Army land to install and operate the solar power plant. The consortium will cohabitate with the military with the goal of landing more contracts as the Pentagon shifts to sustainable energy on its bases.

Out in the brightest, driest reaches of the United States, more international clean energy companies with American HQs may find themselves involved in the Defense Department's "Green Coalition."

Israel's Ormat Technologies has its main North American offices in Reno, Nevada, just north of Fort Irwin. Ormat (NYSE: ORA) is already drawing steam from the ground to drive geothermal electricity generation throughout the West, and inclusion in Army energy plans could give another shot in the arm to Ormat shares, which are now holding just above support levels at $36.

Be it Acciona, Ormat, or another company that gains the most from the American military's forays into security through clean power, one thing is certain: the U.S. is now building an international coalition on renewable energy like none we've seen before.

We'll keep you up to date on which international green companies are set to benefit.


Sam Hopkins
Sam Hopkins

International Editor

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