Going green, drab olive style

The solar array at Davis-Monthan, photo courtesy of 1st Lt Sarah Ruckriegle, USAF. Taken January 7, 2014
The solar array at Davis-Monthan, photo courtesy of 1st Lt Sarah Ruckriegle, USAF. Taken January 7, 2014

The largest single energy user in the country already wears varying shades of green, and now it is one step closer to another shade: energy independence.

Fort Huachuca cut the ribbon on the Department of Defense’s largest solar array located just outside of the fort itself on Feb. 11, bringing the military closer to its goal of reducing its dependence on fossil fuels.

“The Army made a significant commitment to being energy-efficient, it takes up a significant part of our budget,” said Col. Thomas Boone, who believes the garrison’s command of combating climate change with cleaner-burning energy also benefits national security.

In 2010, the Department of Defense stated that its goal is to provide itself with one gigawatt of power from renewable resources. One gigawatt equates to 1,000 megawatts. A generator with one megawatt of capacity can power anywhere from 400 to 900 single family homes. Each branch of the DOD has undertaken large initiatives to meet that goal.

“If we’re more energy efficient and more efficient with our dollars, we can put more soldiers and equipment into training, and into the field,” said Boone.

The solar array stands on a 225-acre easement from the fort, and is owned and maintained by Tucson Electric Power. According to Boone, and confirmed with Joseph Barrios of TEP, the installation was not built with any government funds, instead being funded entirely with a $40 million budget from TEP.

The installation will have the capacity for providing Fort Huachuca with twice the power it uses in a single day, although under recent weather conditions it has only provided roughly 14 megawatts per day, equating to about 20 percent of the fort’s usage. Once weather conditions begin staying optimal as the season changes from winter to summer, the array will produce 17.2 megawatts of power, which is enough to support 3,000 homes every day.

Cutting the ribbon last week merely meant the end of phase one and Barrios says that once phase two is completed the array’s output will increase to 25 percent of the fort’s power consumption. No timetable exists yet for phase two, although it is something that TEP is “strongly interested in completing,” according to Barrios.

The various divisions within the DOD which have a presence in southern Arizona took it upon themselves to impose mandates to realize greater energy independence. Fort Huachuca’s array’s construction is a part of the larger goal of the US Army’s Energy Security Implementation Strategy of 2009 to have five of its domestic installations meet “net-zero” (meaning they produce as much power as they consume) energy goals by 2020. An additional 25 installations will meet the goal in 2030. The Army also looks to transform its “non-tactical fleet,” meaning its vehicles which do not have a role in combat. Currently the Army has deployed over 500 hybrid vehicles and 4,000 low-speed electric vehicles at domestic installations, including Ft. Huachuca.

“If we can produce clean energy, I think that is within our leadership and mission parameters in the military,” says Boone.

North of the fort, closer to Tucson proper, the Air Force operates its own solar array project that has been online since February of last year, on Davis-Monthan AFB. It was formerly the largest of its kind in the DOD until the array at Ft. Huachuca took its place, and was built under the Air Force Energy Plan of May, 2010.

In addition to the array’s construction, the USAF also plans for its aircraft to fly on alternative fuel blends, if they are cost-competitive, domestically produced, and have a lifecycle greenhouse gas footprint less than or equal to petroleum.

One of these fuels being tested is Hydrotreated Renewable Jet, or HRJ, which burns at a much cleaner rate than petroleum. The Air Force hopes to acquire 50 percent of its domestic aviation fuel from alternative blends by 2016 and was recognized by the EPA as a “Green Power Partner,” one of the nation’s top purchasers of green power.

Fort Huachuca has various other energy-saving initiatives aimed at reducing the fort’s power consumption, including motion-detectors on lights, locking monitors for heat and air conditioning at 78 degrees, and designing new structures to be more energy-efficient. The fort’s residents receive awards and penalties in their bills based on how much power they use. If they are over 10 percent of their neighbors’ usage, they are penalized, and if they are below 10 percent, they get a bonus. These practices are becoming a model for other Army installations across the country to increase their energy independence.

Mike Beckwith is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. contact him at mlb146@email.arizona.edu

Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos