Returning to a theme often covered on this site, the US Army continues to make the pace in off-grid technology.
The idea of converting communities to total renewable energy, complete recycling and a culture of conservation to bring humankind’s carbon footprint into a sustainable balance with a healthy earth, is usually seen as one for deep green activists.
The last place you’d expect this ideal to take root – and even flourish– is a Texas Army base. But Fort Bliss, a sprawling military base accommodating 35,000 soldiers in El Paso, is one of the armed forces’ leading hotbeds of energy conservation and creativity.
The Department of Defense recently released this announcement:
WASHINGTON, April 5, 2013 – The largest renewable energy project in U.S. military history is slated to begin soon at Fort Bliss, Texas, a big step toward the installation’s goal of generating all the energy it uses, Army Maj. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, the installation and 1st Armored Division commander, announced today.
The Army Corps of Engineers gave the official nod this week for El Paso Electric to start work on a 20-megawatt solar farm that will power all of the division headquarters and most of the eastern sector of the sprawling installation, Pittard told reporters at a news conference.
The partnership is the first between the military and a major local utility on a renewable energy project of this scale, he reported.
“This is the largest solar project at any installation to date in [the Defense Department]. We are very, very proud of that,” he said. “It is exciting to be leading the American military in renewable energy, [and] reducing our carbon footprint,” both goals of Fort Bliss’ environmental campaign plan.
The solar farm, to be completed in 2015, is just one part of the post’s sweeping plans to reduce its energy consumption and dependence on non-renewable energy. Fort Bliss already hosts a 1.4-megawatt solar array, the Army’s second-largest, and has installed a 13.4-megawatt rooftop solar array on post housing. In addition, another 20-megawatt contract with El Paso Electric is in the works, as well as a plan with the city of El Paso to convert waste to energy, Pittard said.
Meanwhile, installation officials are pursuing wind and geothermal initiatives and promoting recycling and more efficient water use, he said. They also planted 14,700 trees — well on their way to the goal of 20,000 — and have built bike and walking paths and encouraged people to use fuel-efficient vehicles.
The goal, Pittard told reporters, is to achieve “Net Zero,” meaning the post creates all the energy it uses.
While reducing Fort Bliss’ carbon footprint and energy costs, the initiatives will contribute to the Army’s energy conservation and security goal of using 25 percent renewable energy by 2015.
Soldiers have been supportive of the efforts, collectively raising $1 million last year through recycling. The proceeds were channeled to Morale, Welfare and Recreation projects such as skating parks and spinning cycles, prompting even more recycling, which Pittard said he hopes will reach $1.5 million this year.
“Everybody is getting involved in that, because they see the positive results of recycling,” he said.
Pittard also reported a dramatic drop in electricity use in post housing.
Changing behavior and promoting a culture that encourages energy conservation are keys to achieving Net Zero, Pittard said.
“And that is what we hope our soldiers will then take with them when they go on to other installations and move into society throughout the county,” he said.
As encouraged as he is by Fort Bliss’ progress, Pittard said, he sees a direct link between these efforts and his primary mission of ensuring combat-ready forces.
“The solar farm, along with our environment campaign plan, are both part of a larger effort to make Fort Bliss the most fit, most healthy, most resilient community in America that is environmentally sound and is best at preparing soldiers and units for combat,” he said.
As soldiers take advantage of more outdoor spaces, they’re getting out of their barracks and establishing a closer sense of community, Pittard said.
“All that has helped us with this relationship-building throughout our installation,” he said, calling it “no accident” that Fort Bliss has the Army’s lowest suicide rate in the continental United States.
“We feel that the fitness, the resiliency and the Net Zero is interrelated,” Pittard said. “For us here, it has been a no-brainer. Now what we hope is that the rest of the Army sees that and will replicate it.”
The post already has a 1.4-megawatt solar array and has placed rooftop solar panels on enough base housing to generate 13.4-megawatts of energy. It’s partnering with El Paso Electric to add a 200-acre, 20-megawatt solar farm by 2015. The base’s managers plan to convert its own waste into energy. Oh, and it’s engaged in wind power, geothermal, and conservation projects while promoting energy-efficient vehicles and building bicycle lanes.
The Army! Who knew they cared?
At Fort Bliss, the rank and file, as well as the brass, are committed to achieving the goal of net zero by 2018. By that date, the base is supposed to generate all of the energy it uses – solely relying on renewable alternatives. Fort Hood, in Killeen, Texas, aims to get there by 2020.
The troops have earned their green stripes by planting nearly 15,000 trees and embracing recycling. To encourage the latter, base commander Gen. Dana Pittard has invested the revenue from recycling into skate parks, gyms, and other morale-boosting recreation projects.
“Everybody is getting involved,” he says, noting that the effort is changing behavior and fostering a conservation culture, which he hopes “our soldiers will then take with them when they go on.”
There’s hope for the Earth when even the Army begins to care, take action, and change attitudes.
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