The U.S. Army, on Thursday, October 15, signed an agreement to build a $2-billion, 500-megawatt solar farm at Ft. Irwin in the Mojave Desert in California.
The agreement, between the Corps of Engineers and Irwin Energy Security Partners – a consortium of Henderson, Nevada-based ACCIONA Solar Power, and Bethesda, Maryland-based Clark Energy Group – will result in the Army leasing about 14,000 acres of its Ft. Irwin location to the partnership, which will finance, build, operate and maintain the solar farm in exchange for lease payments.
Any energy not used by Ft. Irwin will be sold back to the grid, thanks to two high-voltage transmission lines running nearby. Southern California Edison (SCE) currently supplies electricity to Ft. Irwin, via a 115-kV line near Hwy. 15. Another line runs nearby on the eastern edge to Baker.
The project will be the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DoE) largest, making the 14-megawatt Nellis Air Force Base array look like a test project. Nor will the Ft. Irwin array occupy a single site, but rather five sites all over the base, with the first phase completed in 2014 and providing enough energy to provide all Ft. Irwin’s electrical needs, with power left over. For example, Ft. Irwin uses 28 megawatts of electricity, according to the Army’s senior energy executive Jerry Hansen, while the 500-megawatt arrays produce 1,000 gigawatt hours annually, leaving almost 500 megawatts for sale.
In addition, Ft. Irwin occupies 2.5 square miles of land, serving as the Army’s largest training camp with 5,000 new recruits a month, and also as the site of NASA’s (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s) Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex. Even so, much of the land never sees a human footprint.
Eventually, the project could be expanded to 1,000 megawatts, over 13 years, using a combination of concentrating solar thermal and solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies. When expanded, the solar arrays will provide enough power to electrify 250,000 homes or, for example, the city of Oakland.
The project is a response to the Army’s mandate to reduce energy consumption by 30 percent by 2015, and to provide for one quarter of its energy needs via renewable sources like solar by 2025.