Now You Can Help A Military Base Go Solar

Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst has broken new ground before – in the last decade, it was among the wave of consolidated bases formed in order to maximize U.S. military efficiency, pulling together McGuire Air Force Base, the Army’s Fort Dix and the Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst. Now big parts of the base are going solar in a way that makes it unique among military renewable energy projects.

The difference at McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is that Mosaic, the service that gives regular folks a chance to earn money investing in solar projects – and in the process, gives those solar projects access to less-expensive financing – is getting in on the effort to install a whopping 12.3 megawatts of solar photovoltaics on homes. It’s estimated that the project will produce 13.7 million kilowatt hours per year, roughly 40 percent of the annual electricity usage of the 2,104 military family homes at the base.

solar mcguire-dix-lakehurst

image via Mosaic

“The U.S. military knows better than anyone the importance of energy independence,” Billy Parish, president of Mosaic, said in a statement. “Mosaic is pleased to offer more Americans the opportunity to tangibly support this by investing in rooftop solar energy for military families.”

Mosaic, launched in January,  is offering this trying to broaden the solar financing paradigm, moving it beyond the province of Wall Street, where the likes of CitiCredit Suisse and U.S. Bancorp have been reaping returns from the growing sector. It seems to have proven popular so far, even with the legal tangle of finance regulations limiting it to certain states for certain projects (the McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst project is open only to people in California).

To help build solar at McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst while earning a return, Mosaic said investors can put down as little as $25. A solar power purchase agreement with a AA- rated housing developer, United Communities, will pay “estimated net returns at a variable interest rate of the 1-month LIBOR [currently around 0.20%] plus 2.25% annually for the first four years, rising to 1 month LIBOR + 2.50% for the final three years of the seven-year term.”

Meanwhile, the military gets some solar – something it needs a lot of.

In his big climate-change speech earlier this year, President Obama said the Department of Defense was being directed to install 3 gigawatts of renewable power on or around its bases.

There’s also the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which required all federal agencies to source at least 5 percent of their energy consumption from renewables in fiscal year 2012. Despite all the effort being made (we’ve written a zillion stories about the military and renewables), according to the Annual Energy Management Report [PDF] released earlier this year, the military failed to meet that goal. The Department of Defense said it got 4 percent of its electricity consumption from renewables. The goal in EPAct, as it’s known, rises to 7.5 percent for this year, and in his new plan the president said he was aiming for 20 percent by 2020.

On top of all that is a part of the federal code called “10 U.S.C §2911(e) renewable energy goal,” which states that “It shall be the goal of the Department of Defense … to produce or procure not less than 25 percent of the total quantity of facility energy it consumes within its facilities during fiscal year 2025 and each fiscal year thereafter from renewable energy sources.” Along the way, in 2018, the goal to hit is 15 percent.

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.