According to a study conducted by ICF, a consulting firm for the US Department of Defense, surplus land at four military bases in the Mojave desert in California could be capable of producing up to 7 Gigawatts of solar power. These bases include, the Edwards Air Force base, Fort Erwin, China Lake and Twenty-nine Palms. Some 37,873 acres of land is available for setting these solar power plants, without impacting the space needs of the military for its ongoing operational needs or for potential future needs. The type of solar power plant to be installed, whether silicon flat panels or solar concentrators, has not yet been determined. If the go-ahead happens, power plant construction could commence by 2015.
Solar power is already being generated at individual military bases such as the Nellis Air Force base in Nevada where a 14MW photovoltaic installation caters to about half of its power needs.
The potential 7GW power generation represents about 30 percent of all the power used by the Department of Defense (DoD), which is already the world’s largest institutional energy user, with annual energy bills of over $4 billion. The ICF study recommends that the land be leased to private power producers to build power plants at their own cost. The developers will pay land lease rentals and share a part of the revenues from power sale. The ICF estimates that these could total over $100 million a year.
For the private power developer, a military base is, in many ways, the ideal site for setting up power plants. The land is already with the DoD and secured with perimeter fencing. Military bases are well connected with road networks, capable of handling heavy vehicle movement. They also have an airstrip or helipad for quick access. Power supply grid connections are already in place and are highly reliability. The base also has workshop facilities, cranes and other lifting equipment, and a team of highly skilled and motivated engineers and technicians.