Fort Bliss to build biggest solar farm in the Army

April 5, 2013 2:43:31 PM PDT
A West Texas military base said Friday it plans to build the U.S. military's largest solar energy farm.

Fort Bliss commander Gen. Dana Pittard made the announcement and touted the Army base's other green initiatives, including planting 14,700 trees, encouraging the use of energy-efficient vehicles and building bicycle lanes.

The Army wants to generate about one gigawatt of power from renewable energies by 2025 --about a tenth of its total consumption or enough power to supply at least 250,000 homes. However, Fort Bliss decided to take it even further and plans to become a "net zero" installation by 2018, meaning the base will generate all the energy it uses, between 65 to 70 megawatts.

Once completed, the 200-acre solar farm is expected to generate 20 megawatts of electricity, about a third of the base's needs. It will join a 1.4 megawatt solar farm that currently sits a few hundred yards from Fort Bliss' headquarters and a 13.4 megawatt array of solar panels already installed on the rooftops of residential buildings and other areas around the base.

It's the first time the Army has partnered with a local utility on a renewable energy project of this size -- about 94,000 solar panels. El Paso Electric will select the developer and construction is expected to begin by the end of 2014 and finish a year later.

The final cost will be determined after proposals are submitted to the utility.

BJ Tomlinson, Fort Bliss' renewable energy & sustainable engineering program manager, said it would roughly cost $120 million.

The contract says the Army agrees to buy the solar farm's electricity for 26 years once it becomes operational.

Pittard also said there are plans to build a 10 to 30 megawatt waste-to-energy plant in the future so part of El Paso's waste could be converted into electrical power.

"We have irreversible momentum, the seeds have been planted," Pittard said regarding Fort Bliss' drive toward being energy self-sufficient.

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