U.S. Military Eyes Big Solar On Desert Bases

Still, the study said, the government could get a lot out of such development, including rental fees and cheaper power that could be worth $100 million annually. In fact, the DOD suggested the government could do better than it is under the BLM’s current leasing program, writing, “BLM’s solar land lease rates could increase substantially and still provide an attractive rate of return for private developers under the study’s assumptions.”

The study looked at the full range of solar development possibilities on the bases and determined that crystalline-silicon PV with single-axis tracking had the best potential “due to its combination of low cost of installation and high electricity output.” Other PV technologies – including thin-film – could also be viable, the study said, but concentrating solar power technologies that were studied “were not economically viable in most cases due to their higher installed costs.”

While the researchers began by looking at nine bases in the Mojave and Colorado deserts, they eventually narrowed their focus to four bases in California with significant acreage prime for development: Edwards Air Force Base (24,327 acres), Fort Irwin (18,728 acres), China Lake (6,777) and Twentynine Palms (553 acres).

solar on military bases

image via U.S. Air Force

The study emphasized that the development could occur “without impact on mission performance and can result in substantial value delivery” to the Defense Department. It added, however, that “a thoughtful program, with the necessary funding, leadership support and capacity building” would be necessary to actually make it happen.

Both a 17-page executive summary [PDF] of report and the full 532-page document itself [PDF] are available online. You gotta love thick, multi-page government documents.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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