The recently unveiled Army Energy Initiatives Task Force has launched its most ambitious project yet: a 50-megawatt biofuels power plant on Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
Army and Hawaii Electric Company (HECO) officials said talks about the plant are in the early stages, and the two sides are working on a memorandum of understanding regarding the project. Army officials said the service typically would prefer to lease the land from HECO for the plant and buy some of the power it produces from the utility company. In that case, HECO would build and operate it.
Marine Corps Base Hawaii, known as K-Bay, has a goal of being off the grid by 2015 and wants to build another massive biofuels power plant that would be opened by that year on a budget of $50m. Other details are not immediately available.
The Army and Hawaiian Electric Co. anticipate having an agreement completed sometime in the fourth quarter of this year. The costs of building the plant haven’t been determined.
According to HECO, the plant could meet 4 percent of the typical daily peak demand for Oahu. It also would provide power to some essential buildings on the base if there was an outage.
Key buildings and areas for commanders and base facilities vital for emergency services would continue to be powered by the plant during any outage, Army spokesman Dave Foster said.
In addition to the benefits of adding more power to the grid, farmers could gain from such projects because it adds another market, said Delan Perry, president of Volcano Isle Fruit Co. and vice president of the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association.
“I kind of like the idea, and the idea of using waste [papayas] and product that doesn’t have as much market value,” Perry said. “We have multiple markets already. Adding another value into the system would be a good thing.”
But the only way farmers on Neighbor Islands would benefit from a plant at Schofield Barracks is if the price they were being paid would allow them to cover transportation costs, Perry said.
“We have land, and as long as the private industry has a demand, we can work out various renewable-energy partnerships,” Army spokesman Foster said. “That is a part of what would be encompassed in the memorandum of understanding. It’s probably not the only thing we will be looking at. We believe these partnerships can really help out in the tight financial world we find ourselves in today.”
Terry Bruggeman, executive chairman of the board for Florida-based Bio Tork, which is working with the Navy in Hawaii to use papayas for biofuel, said he hasn’t heard of too many biofuels plants in the country that add power to an electrical grid. One biofuels plant being built by Valero and the Mascoma Corp. in Michigan is slated to cost $232 million and produce 20 million gallons of biofuel a year, Bloomberg reported in late 2011.
“It’s not an unusual arrangement to have something like this that would serve the grid during normal time,” HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg said.
It’s unclear why Schofield was chosen to house a biofuels plant and not a photovoltaic project, like other Army bases, considering Hawaii’s sunshine. But Army officials said biofuel for Schofield was selected by the task force after 27 site visits to 13 bases and the screening of 180 Army and National Guard installations.
Although the plant would be something new for HECO and the Army, the electric utility is developing a track record of working with the military to provide power.
One big advantage of building power plants on bases is it adds more security for those facilities, Foster said.
These alternative-energy projects are part of President Barack Obama’s mandate that requires each branch to produce 1 gigawatt of renewable energy by 2025, Foster added. The Army and Air Force will meet that goal by 2016, and the Navy will meet it by 2020.
Other bases identified by the Army’s task force will get photovoltaic power projects. Those bases are Ft. Irwin, Calif.; Ft. Bliss, Texas; and Ft. Detrick, Md.
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