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Army Goes Greener

The Army wants to trim its skyrocketing energy bills at the many posts that dot the country with new solar projects, wind power, investments in bio-fuels and energy conservation. The service realizes, along with much of the rest of the nation, that switching to low consumption light bulbs alone is not going to solve the energy problem.

Over the past seven years, the Army’s energy consumption has dropped by nearly 8 percent but its energy costs have gone up an alarming 40 percent, said Keith Eastin, assistant Army secretary for Installations and Environment, speaking at the Army’s annual convention this week in Washington, D.C. The Army currently spends $2 billion annually on fuel and another $1 billion for electricity. Much of that fuel is pumped into the massive generators that power forward operating bases in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan

The service’s announced intentions are certainly admirable. “The Army plans to increase efficiency and serve as a model for the military and the nation when it comes to the operation of our housing, buildings, and forward operating bases,” Eastin said. The Army will use its considerable purchasing power to push green projects that might not otherwise receive needed money.

Extra power produced by the new initiatives, such as solar and wind, will be sold into the local electric grid. “We will become a net installation exporter of energy,” from its on-base solar farms Eastin said. Profits from the sale of that excess power would be returned to the Army. The massive amounts of unused acreage on the Army’s installations beg for solar and wind projects, “we have a resource the rest of the country can use to produce additional electricity,” Eastin said. At sun drenched Ft. Irwin in California’s Mojave Desert, the Army is partnering with the private sector to construct a 500 megawatt solar thermal plant.

The Army has a garrison fleet of 60,000 vehicles, mostly pickup trucks and SUVs, that are restricted to speed limits below 30 miles per hour while on base. Driving around in large SUVs that never leave second gear doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, said Paul Bollinger, who is the Army’s senior energy executive. The Army is buying up 4,000 small Neighborhood Electric Vehicles for use by base maintenance and operations staff. Bollinger said they figured why not skip over hybrid vehicles and go all the way to electric and perhaps help jump start an entire industry.

The service is also exploring the potential for using small nuclear reactors to power stateside bases. “If you can run a huge carrier on a small nuclear power plant there’s no reason we can’t run a large installation on one,” Eastin said.

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