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US Departments of Interior and Defense partner to promote renewable energy on federal lands

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that encourages appropriate development of renewable energy projects on public lands withdrawn (set aside) for defense-related purposes, and other onshore and offshore areas near military installations.

The MOU sets out the guiding concepts for the Renewable Energy Partnership Plan, the departments’ roles and responsibilities under the agreement, and how they will work together to carry out the initiative. A major goal of the partnership is to harness the significant proven solar, wind, geothermal and biomass energy resources on or near Department of Defense (DoD) installations across the country.

DoD is aggressively pursuing the development of renewable energy on its installations both to improve the energy security of the installations and to reduce its $4 billion-a-year utility bill. Together with advanced microgrid technology, which DoD is testing, renewable energy will allow a base to maintain critical functions for weeks or months if the commercial grid goes down. With these operational goals in mind, each of the Military Services has committed to deploy 1 gigawatt of renewable energy on or near its installations by 2025.

DoD installations encompass roughly 28 million acres in the United States, of which 16 million acres previously managed by Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) were withdrawn for military use by Executive Order, congressional legislation or departmental regulations. About 13 million acres of these withdrawn lands are located in the west and are high in wind, solar and geothermal resources. Offshore wind also is an abundant renewable energy resource available to many DoD installations on the Atlantic coast, Pacific coast, Gulf of Mexico and in Hawaii. Offshore Atlantic winds alone could produce an estimated 1,000 gigawatts of energy.

The MOU establishes a framework for an offshore wind partnership within which Interior and DoD will continue to work together to identity areas most appropriate for offshore wind development. To encourage a dialogue with industry, the DoD and Interior will co-chair a military/industry offshore wind forum this fall to initiate information-sharing among the military, other federal agencies, and industry.

The MOU also provides a blueprint for cooperation between Interior and DoD to identify lands for mission-compatible development of onshore renewable energy projects on DoD installations. This includes withdrawn lands on military installations or on withdrawn land that could be appropriate for utility-scale solar, wind, or geothermal projects.

Under the MOU, the DoD will explore ways in which renewable energy could be provided directly to a single installation or may be transmitted across a network of DoD installations. Some larger projects could involve the sale of excess power to the grid, provided appropriate measures ensure base security.

As part of the MOU, DoD and the BLM will develop a pilot process for authorizing

solar energy projects on several military installations in Arizona and California, including the Barry M. Goldwater Range, Arizona; Ft. Irwin, California; and the Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona. The pilot process will reflect the MOU in that DoD will take the lead in permitting and leasing for renewable energy projects on lands withdrawn for defense-related purposes.

The partnership will set up a working group on geothermal energy, continue to increase renewable energy production opportunities through the Interagency Working Group on Coordination of Domestic Energy Development and Permitting in Alaska, and use the Interagency Land Use Coordinating Committee process to resolve land management issues pertaining to withdrawn lands. The MOU also stipulates that Interior and DoD will continue the important landscape level planning effort on the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan in California.


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