Energy futuresArmy seeks to go off the grid at Fort Bliss

Published 14 January 2011

At Fort Bliss Army commanders seek to power the base using renewable power sources by 2015; plans include using solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass; military bases around the country are increasingly looking at renewable energy to reduce their carbon footprint and avoid disruption in the event of a terrorist attack

In an ambitious plan, commanders at Fort Bliss seek to generate their own energy using sustainable methods in as little as four years. Current plans include harnessing several renewable sources such as solar, geothermal, and wind.

The San Antonio Express Newsr eports the U.S. Army is working with the Pentagon to lease thirty acres of land to build a 25-megawatt solar array that would provide energy for the base. Once the land is leased, the Army would t seek bidders to build a photovoltaic solar array to produce energy.

The solar farm would cost roughly $112 million and generate enough power for about 5,000 homes. Fort Bliss is soaked in sun, receiving on average 330 days of sun a year.

“For the solar specifically, we’re looking at taking advantage of us being known as the Sun City, and being able to produce our own energy at some point,” said Col. Joseph Simonelli Jr., garrison commander at Fort Bliss.

The renewable energy and sustainable energy manager for the base, Benny Joe “B.J.” Tomlinson, optimistically estimates that the solar farm could be completed by 2015 with the lease agreement taking eighteen to thirty-six months and a little over a year for the construction of the solar farm.

Fort Bliss currently uses anywhere from forty-two to sixty megawatts, but anticipates future needs of 100 megawatts.

To power the base using entirely sustainable energy sources, Tomlinson has several plans in mind. He hopes to expand the solar project to include as many as ten solar farms.

Additionally, Fort Bliss seeks to build a waste to energy plant that would generate 90 to 140 megawatts. Power would be generated by burning all the waste from the base, as well as nearby El Paso, Texas, while concentrated solar power would create steam that spins electric turbines.

Aside from environmental concerns, the base is pursuing its own renewable energy sources to insulate itself from dependence on an electricity grid could be knocked down for days by a targeted terrorist attack.

“Even if you look at other things like just a hurricane or rolling brownouts just because of weather … it’s energy security both where there could be a man-made threat or also just it could be weather,” said Monique Hanis of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Military bases across the country are increasingly looking to secure their energy sources and have taken a keen interest in renewable energy.

To create a fully self-sustained base, Fort Bliss is post is currently testing the use of a geothermal power plant to generate forty watts and exploring a wind turbine project that would generate fifty megawatts. Their goal is to use solar power during the day, wind in the late afternoon and evening when it is windier, and biomass and geothermal power at night or on cloudy days.