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How Oregon Can Benefit From Solar on California Military Bases

How Oregon Can Benefit From Solar on California Military Bases

Edwards Air Force Base. Photo courtesy of ReCharge News.

By Solar Oregon Board Member David Petersen

       The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) recently evaluated the solar potential of nine military bases in California and Nevada.  It concluded that the bases could support 7,000 MW of solar energy – equivalent to the output of seven average-sized nuclear power plants.  This is more than 30 times the electricity consumed by the military installations themselves, and about two-thirds of the DoD's current electricity consumption nationwide.  And, this was on only four percent of the bases' land, the rest having been found unsuitable due to conflicts with the military's mission.  Furthermore, even if only six percent of the suitable land (or less than 1/4 of a percent of the total land area studied) was developed for solar, it would generate enough electricity to meet the DoD's nationwide renewable energy goals under the federal EPA Act of 2005.

        Why would this be good for solar in Oregon?  Oregon has no large military installations.  But what Oregon has is vast tracts of federally-owned land -- in fact, the U.S. government owns a whopping 53.1 percent of the land in Oregon (almost 32 million acres), much of it in the sunny eastern part of the state and most of it managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  However, most land managed by DoD in the western U.S. also is under BLM's jurisdiction, but is temporarily "withdrawn" from the public domain to serve military needs.  Thus, it is only a matter of time before the lessons that DoD and BLM learn in developing solar on military bases can and will be reapplied to other BLM lands, including in Oregon.  In fact, the Department of the Interior (of which BLM is a part) has already permitted over 6,500 MW of solar on federal lands nationwide since 2009. 

       The DoD's report makes clear that one of the lessons the feds seem to already have learned is that solar development on public land should be primarily a private, not public, enterprise.  This is true largely because unlike the military, private developers can take advantage of various state and federal incentives for renewable power.  DoD's study found that rather than creating just another federal program spending tax dollars, a concentrated effort by DoD and BLM to build solar on federal lands would spur significant private economic growth while generating up to $100 million per year in additional revenue or other economic benefits to the military.  This is in addition to the un-quantified benefits of reduced greenhouse gas emissions to both the military and to society as a whole. 

       With lots of open, sunny land close to transmission that is not encumbered by incompatible military uses, Oregon will be a choice target for the next round of solar development on federal property.  Thus, success with solar on California military bases could easily translate into significant growth of the private solar energy sector in Oregon, bringing needed jobs and economic development to rural areas.

        I applaud the DoD and BLM for their measured and forward-looking approach to solar energy.  Smart development of even the small percentage of federal lands that are suitable for solar can produce tremendous results for both energy security and national security.  What's more, it can portend great things for responsible development of the largely untapped solar resources of other states with large federal landholdings like Oregon.

 
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