Defense, Interior Join Forces on Clean Power

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar listens to a question at a news conference after addressing the American Wind Energy Association's annual Offshore Wind Power Conference in Baltimore, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)  (National Journal)

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar have signed a Memorandum of Understanding that encourages the development of renewable energy, such as wind, solar, and geothermal power, on federal lands set aside for military use.

The initiative is primarily important for the Pentagon's efforts to reduce its $4 billion-a-year utility bill and and to maintain independence from the commercial grid, if necessary.

"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," Panetta said in a statement.

With the use of advanced microgrid technology, currently being tested by the Defense Department, renewable-energy sources will allow military bases to maintain critical functions for weeks or months at a time, in the absence of power from the commercial grid.

Under the agreement, each of the military services has committed to deploy 1 gigawatt of renewable energy — equivalent to the energy from one nuclear plant — on or near its bases or installations by 2025.

"We provide the land and commit to purchase a portion of the power," explained Dorothy Robyn, DOD's deputy undersecretary for installations and environment.

Robyn explained that the Pentagon is primarily looking to military lands in the West that offer wind, solar, and geothermal resources that can be harnessed by nearby military installations.

In addition to development onshore, the MOU also establishes the framework for a partnership between the Defense and Interior departments to identify areas for offshore wind development that could power military installations in coastal areas. To encourage a dialogue with industry to move some of these projects forward, the Pentagon is planning to cosponsor a military/industry offshore wind forum with Interior this fall.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who kicks off his fifth annual clean-energy conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday, lauded the "landmark agreement" in a conference call on Monday. "I am really happy that Secretaries Salazar and Panetta have come to this agreement," he said.