Pentagon Streamlines Approval for Energy Projects

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2011 — A Defense Depart­ment clear­ing­house for renew­able ener­gy projects has approved 229 of 249 projects pro­posed in 35 states and Puer­to Rico, Deputy Defense Sec­re­tary William J. Lynn III said last week.

These projects rep­re­sent 10 gigawatts of renew­able ener­gy gen­er­a­tion capac­i­ty in wind ener­gy alone,” Lynn said at an Army and Air Force ener­gy forum.

Our action removes a major stum­bling block for devel­op­ers who are try­ing to attract financ­ing, show­ing the department’s com­mit­ment to sup­port­ing the president’s vision for ener­gy … with­out com­pro­mis­ing our nation­al secu­ri­ty,” the deputy sec­re­tary said.

Ener­gy Sec­re­tary Steven Chu not­ed dur­ing a speech at the same forum that the Defense Depart­ment has played a cru­cial role in devel­op­ing tech­nolo­gies, includ­ing the GPS sys­tem, the Inter­net and semi­con­duc­tor elec­tron­ics.

As an ear­ly investor and adopter, [DOD] has actu­al­ly advanced those tech­nolo­gies that have become the core wealth gen­er­a­tors … of today,” he said.

Chu likened the devel­op­ment of renew­able ener­gy tech­nol­o­gy to a sec­ond indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion. “We still need the ener­gy and the pow­er to pro­pel our mil­i­tary, our econ­o­my, our world — but we need to do it in a clean­er way,” he said.

And, the Defense Depart­ment will con­tin­ue to play a sem­i­nal role in stim­u­lat­ing the clean ener­gy rev­o­lu­tion, Chu said.

David Belote, DOD’s sit­ing clear­ing­house exec­u­tive direc­tor, said the year-old orga­ni­za­tion exists to pro­vide speedy assess­ment of renew­able ener­gy projects’ effects on mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties.

Before the clear­ing­house was formed, the Air Force and oth­er agen­cies spent 15 months nego­ti­at­ing over a solar project that start­ed oper­at­ing in 2007 near Nel­lis Air Force Base, Nev., said Belote, who was the air base wing com­man­der there at the time.

Where the com­pa­ny first pro­posed build­ing, it was going to have some sig­nif­i­cant elec­tro­mag­net­ic inter­fer­ence issues on test and eval­u­a­tion oper­a­tions at the Neva­da Test and Train­ing Range,” he said.

Belote said that solar, and espe­cial­ly wind pow­er, instal­la­tions can cause elec­tro­mag­net­ic inter­fer­ence and oth­er issues for mil­i­tary elec­tron­ic sens­ing devices. Wind tur­bines can mea­sure 500 feet from base to blade tip, and “large spin­ning things” cause par­tic­u­lar issues for radar sys­tems, he said.

Dur­ing both the Nel­lis project debate and lat­er nego­ti­a­tions over the Shep­herds Flat Wind Farm in north­ern Ore­gon, intense con­gres­sion­al pres­sure led the Air Force to con­sult MIT Lin­coln Lab­o­ra­to­ry, whose experts said, “This can be fixed,” Belote said.

The poten­tial halt of the long-planned projects was due in part to the reg­u­la­tions the wind indus­try uses, Belote said. Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Admin­is­tra­tion and DOD approval of large-scale ener­gy projects at the time wasn’t required until 30 days before con­struc­tion. That peri­od now is 45 days.

The wind farm was a $2 bil­lion project that had been in the works for five or six years, Belote said. “The Sen­ate was plen­ty irri­tat­ed that the mil­i­tary, late in the game, was ask­ing to block it,” he added.

Ulti­mate­ly, DOD agreed to field test MIT’s solu­tions and with­drew its objec­tions to both projects, Belote said.

A third project involved the area around Travis Air Force Base, an area of “huge wind poten­tial” in Solano Coun­ty, Calif., and may be the mod­el for how to go for­ward, he said. Two major wind ener­gy cor­po­ra­tions, the Sacra­men­to Munic­i­pal Util­i­ties Dis­trict, and offi­cials at Travis Air Force Base and the Air Force’s Air Mobil­i­ty Com­mand joined efforts to ensure radar cov­er­age of flight oper­a­tions while allow­ing wind farms to be built near the air­field, the clear­ing­house exec­u­tive direc­tor said.

They did some­thing called a mosa­ic, or tri­an­gu­la­tion, and they took two oth­er radars with­in 60 or 80 miles, and put them togeth­er so they could see behind the wind farms as they were con­struct­ed and not lose track of air­craft around the pat­tern,” Belote said.

The clos­est tur­bine to the Travis tow­er is 4.6 miles away,” he added.

Last sum­mer, with a grow­ing list of pro­posed renew­able ener­gy projects near mil­i­tary instal­la­tions, DOD offi­cials hired the new­ly retired Belote to lead the new sit­ing clear­ing­house and speed review of renew­able ener­gy projects.

The three main areas his staff stud­ies, he said, are the impacts of pro­posed projects on mil­i­tary readi­ness and train­ing, test and eval­u­a­tion capa­bil­i­ties, and home­land defense: long-range radar sur­veil­lance, bor­der sur­veil­lance, coastal sur­veil­lance and crit­i­cal vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty sur­veil­lance.

Belote said his staff took the approach of work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly with oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies, the mil­i­tary ser­vices, solar and wind indus­try asso­ci­a­tions and non­govern­men­tal envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions.

By ear­ly Decem­ber, indus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives had agreed to approach Con­gress joint­ly with clear­ing­house staff mem­bers to set review guide­lines, he said, but that plan was derailed when Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma signed the Nation­al Defense Autho­riza­tion Act in Jan­u­ary.

It was much more strin­gent than we would have hoped, and set a very high bar for DOD to assess projects and to be able to object to projects,” Belote said. The act, he added, set a 180-day time­line for DOD to com­plete pre­lim­i­nary reviews on all the ener­gy projects that had been delayed or deferred because of the department’s objec­tions.

We had 270 days, an addi­tion­al 90 days, to fig­ure out … a nation­wide approach to wind, solar [and] geot­her­mal in terms of high, medi­um and low mil­i­tary mis­sion impact areas,” he said.

Belote said the act also lim­it­ed DOD’s allow­able objec­tions to renew­able ener­gy projects to “unac­cept­able risk to nation­al secu­ri­ty,” while only the sec­re­tary of defense and three oth­er top depart­ment offi­cials can file such objec­tions.

The clear­ing­house staff then set to work to deter­mine the size of the back­log and cat­e­go­rize projects. Projects with no sig­nif­i­cant risk of mil­i­tary mis­sion fail­ure would be rat­ed green; projects with some risk but with log­i­cal mit­i­gat­ing strate­gies would be rat­ed yel­low; and “red” projects would be those with sig­nif­i­cant risk of mis­sion fail­ure and no appar­ent mit­i­gat­ing strate­gies.

We end­ed up with 249 projects in the back­log,” he said.

Work­ing with the mil­i­tary ser­vices, the Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Admin­is­tra­tion and the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment to review the back­log, clear­ing­house staffers had by late May com­plet­ed ini­tial assess­ment of all projects, Belote said.

If all four of the mil­i­tary ser­vices, the North Amer­i­can Aero­space Defense Com­mand, and defense readi­ness, test, and instal­la­tions experts rat­ed a project as green, “we trust­ed them,” he said.

The clear­ing­house reviewed all yel­low and red projects and returned them to the ser­vices with sug­ges­tions for mit­i­gat­ing risk, with a 30-day dead­line for final review.

We end­ed up com­ing back with 229 green, and 20 yel­low or red,” Belote said. “Know­ing what we have done to get to where we are, sev­en or eight [of the 20] will prob­a­bly, after a lit­tle more work and study … go straight to green.”

Anoth­er sev­en or eight “amber” projects will like­ly be rat­ed green if the devel­op­er agrees to some mit­i­gat­ing steps, he said.

Move a hand­ful of tur­bines, low­er the height of some, maybe just remove a hand­ful from a project, so that we pre­serve some mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ty,” Belote explained.

Of the 229 projects already approved, 13 involve more than 100 wind tur­bines, five exceed 200, and two, in Michi­gan and Utah, may include more than 300, accord­ing to clear­ing­house records.

Four or five of the 20 projects not yet approved “will prob­a­bly stay bright red, because they are close to some crit­i­cal, unique capa­bil­i­ties,” he said.

The clear­ing­house board of direc­tors, made up of senior defense offi­cials, met on Day 180 of the review and approved the group’s results, he said.

Belote said his staff is now review­ing new project requests and com­pil­ing guid­ance on how to stan­dard­ize rat­ings of future projects. They also are accept­ing requests from indus­try for ear­ly con­sul­ta­tion, so devel­op­ers can bet­ter fore­cast pos­si­ble issues with planned projects.

[And] we are work­ing with [the Ener­gy Depart­ment] … to do an inter­a­gency field test and eval­u­a­tion of all the poten­tial mit­i­ga­tion solu­tions, because we’ve dis­cov­ered 80 to 90 per­cent of the issues sur­round wind tur­bines,” he said. “But the physi­cists and radar engi­neers under­stand what’s going on, so with some mon­ey and some polit­i­cal will, we can solve this.”

Belote said he believes tech­no­log­i­cal advances and indus­try efforts will resolve inter­fer­ence issues with­in two to five years.

There are a few places in the coun­try that we need to keep elec­tro­mag­net­i­cal­ly pris­tine,” he said. “[But] we have tak­en big steps at being able to deter­mine, in a pub­licly defen­si­ble, peer-review­able way, what we need for mil­i­tary mis­sion capa­bil­i­ty.”

Ener­gy secu­ri­ty and ener­gy inde­pen­dence “are equal­ly facets to nation­al secu­ri­ty as are mil­i­tary readi­ness, test and oper­a­tions,” Belote said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)