Chalk one up for the good guys. 134,000 solar panels have been installed at Fort Benning, the U.S. Army base next to Columbus, Georgia. The new solar energy facility is a joint project between the Army and Georgia Power. Georgia Power has spent $70 million over the last two years developing it and they are just getting started. Georgia Power has said it will spend an additional $400 million on solar energy projects across the state including ones at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Fort Stewart in Hinesville, and the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base south of Brunswick.
Despite the federal government’s reputation for inefficiency and bureaucratic slowdowns, the Fort Benning facility moved along quite smoothly after the Georgia Public Service Commission gave it the greenlight in January 2014. Georgia Power dedicated about 270 workers and 260,000 hours to the project and the Department of Defense kept it rolling. Katherine Hammack, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment, was particularly proud of the DoD’s efforts, saying that this project “dispels the notion that the federal government is hard to work with.”
We’ll get back to you on that one Ms. Hammack.
Since 2008, the DoD and the Department of Energy have been working to increase renewable energy sources on military bases. An early and ambitious goal was to develop net zero energy military bases that produce as much energy as they consume. Unfortunately, a GAO report released in January 2016 found that the DoD has not developed an integrated net zero strategy, failing to do much more than set broad energy goals and allow the individual branches to innovate on their own. Thankfully for Georgia, Army leaders like Hammack have not been dragging their feet. In addition to the partnership with Georgia Power, the Army has moved ahead with the Net Zero pilot program that will help bases manage their water resources and waste in a more sustainable manner.
While the rest of the military catches up, it’s all peaches in Georgia. The panels will supply around 17 percent of the electricity at Fort Benning and will presumably help cut down on the military’s massive energy consumption. The DoD is the country’s largest consumer of energy, spending around $1.3 billion of its $500 billion budget on energy each year. Saving on energy costs should clear up space for worthy initiatives like increasing pay for active duty soldiers, preparing for a showdown in the South China Sea, and funding the development of more death machines like this laser-equipped fighter jet that is due by 2020. I guess that galaxy wasn’t as far away as we thought.