The Army is looking to the sun for extra security.

Late last month, the Army broke ground on its largest solar-panel plant to-date at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. The solar array, which will span 155 acres, is intended to provide at least 25% of the electricity at the military base located miles from the Mexican border.

“We look at renewable energy at our installations as a way to bring a portion of security, so we can operate our critical mission requirements in times when the access to the greater electric grid is disrupted, whether that be through national emergencies or natural disasters. Or many of our installations deal with tornadoes or hurricanes, floods, fires, earthquakes. We still, as the Army and the National Guard, need to be able to conduct our mission,” says Amanda Simpson, executive director at the U.S. Army Energy Initiatives Task Force (EITF).

Simpson says the National Defense Authorization Act of 2007 tasked the armed forces with using renewable energy to provide at least 25% of energy used at military installations. As a result, the EITF has been looking at a number of renewable energy sources that can be developed across the Army’s 14 million acres of land in the U.S.

However, Simpson says the mission to harness renewable energy sources was unusual, in that Congress did not provide any funding for the renewable energy projects.

“The Army and the other services have been looking to utilize the private sector to finance these projects. We enter into such things like long-term power-purchase agreements where we will agree to buy that power from a generation source located on our land and the private sector will build, design, operate and finance that facility for the term of the power-purchase agreement,” explains Simpson.

In the case of the Fort Huachuca project, Simpson says the Army is working with Tucson Electric Power, which currently provides electricity to the military installation. As a result, the solar energy produced from the panels at Fort Huachuca will merge seamlessly with the electricity the utility is already providing at the base.

“The power flows in the substation and connects directly with the transmission line that’s bringing power from Tucson 70 miles away and flows into the base’s distribution system,” says Simpson. “Of course, electrons from a solar array don’t look any different from electrons from the coal plant.”

And while Fort Huachuca’s solar project is the Army’s most ambitious yet, Simpson says EITF will soon break ground on even larger renewable energy developments.

“We’re looking at projects from coast to coast. Some of them are solar, some of them are biomass. We are also looking at wind,” says Simpson, who adds that the EITF is already at work on plans in states ranging from Hawaii, New York, Georgia, Alabama, Maryland and California.

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