The US Navy has a goal to develop 1 gigawatt (1000MW) of renewable energy by 2020, enough power to light up 700,000 homes. Now it looks like NAS Lemoore will generate nearly 40 percent of that figure all by themselves, at their base in the Central Valley.
Goals of the nationwide initiative that includes all the branches of service, aim to increase energy security and decrease price volatility,reduce greenhouse gases and dependence on fossil fuels and increase energy efficiency.
The Kings County base is set to welcome those new F-35 strike fighter jets that will be landing in what will be a sea of perhaps 1 million solar panels planted next to the runway – what would be by far the largest solar plant at an airport in the world.
Similar size projects in California have a construction cost of over $1 billion.
The Navy is looking to lease out 3000 to 5000 acres of land surrounding the NAS Lemoore installation to a solar development company who would build a 390 MW solar farm on the open land according to a solicitation.
By contrast Nellis Air Force base in Nevada is the largest solar military airport now at 15 MW on 140 acres.
The Navy studied the idea at Lemoore a few years back and more formally starting in January of this year. They decided the environmental impact of the proposed project, through a formal environmental analysis this May, was negligible. So now it can move forward if negotiations with a private solar firm, on-going now, go well.
December Contract Seen
“On Friday, 23 Oct., NAS Lemoore hosted an Industry Day where renewable energy developers visited the installation to meet with Navy officials and familiarize themselves with the proposed site. The contractor proposals are due in early November, and the Navy expects to award the contract in December 2015.” says base spokesperson Marcelo “Marc” Calero.
The military seeks to take advantage of the declining cost of solar having dropped 15- to 20-fold in the last 40 years according to federal studies.
The Navy and a private partner would enter into an agreement to allow the private partner to use Navy land to construct, operate, and own the proposed solar PV system. The partner would sell the generated power to regional customers as they do with other Central Valley solar farms. The private partner would be responsible for maintenance, operation, and the eventual decommissioning of the solar PV system.
Construction of a solar PV system would result in a change in land use on the acreage from agricultural to renewable energy. This change is part of the new NAS Lemoore Master Plan that lays out the construction plan as the base transitions to squadrons of the new F-35 joint-strike fighters over the next few years.
Historically the Navy seeks to keep development from happening on land around the base and has utilized ag leases in the past to to keep the soil from blowing near the vital military facility where multi-million jets land and take off.
The Environmental Impact Study(EIS) on the project found that that solar PV systems employ glass panels designed for efficiency to maximize absorption and minimize reflection. Solar PV panels consist of dark materials that absorb light, and the protective glass cover is coated with an anti-reflective film. Such panels reflect as little as 2 percent of the incoming sunlight depending on the angle of the sun and as such, pose no hazard to aviation.
Solar photovoltaics (PV) have a low profile and the potential to have low to no impact on flight operations.
Four Year Construction Period
Construction of an up to 390 MW system would occur in two phases and each phase would last approximately 2 years but including the infrastructure – the total construction period for a 390 MW solar system would be approximately 4 years putting it on-line in 2020.
Ag land retirement,at least temporary,of 3000 to 5000 acres will mean some a loss for the farmer who leases the land and farm jobs lost could number 24 over the 37-year lease period the contract covers. Offsetting those loses will be some 300 construction jobs concludes the EIS.
‘Fallow land has increased our susceptibility to bird strikes by making rodents more abundant and visible to large birds of prey that hover in our departure and approach flight paths. Taking action to shift some of the land use to photovoltaic solar arrays may result in less rodents on our land. This energy venture is also expected to decrease the agricultural demand for water on our fields, a win-win outcome for our neighboring agricultural industry and the installation.’ adds Calero.
There would be a water savings in the change in use from agriculture to a solar PV system would also decrease or eliminate the demand of up to approximately 3,130 acres for irrigation water. The amount of agricultural water available varies from year to year based on a percentage allocation set annually by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation against the land’s basic water entitlement. In a 100 percent allocation year, NAS Lemoore receives 29,810 acre-feet for all 11,466 acres it has. NAS Lemoore would either seek cost savings by renegotiating the water lease agreement with the Westland Water District for a lower amount of water, or maintain the agreement as a buffer in dry years to supply the remaining outleases with irrigation water.
To support the proposed solar PV system, a new 230-kV transmission line would be constructed to the existing PG&E 230-kV transmission line. The new 230-kV transmission line would include approximately fifty-five, 80-foot (24-meter) tall steel poles constructed along the proposed route, adjacent to the northern boundary of the Administrative/Housing Area. With more large scale solar is coming to the Kings County the addition of nearly 400MW of power would mean the county total either built or permitted and likely to be built would total nearly 900MW without adding in the prospect of the mega-solar industrial park Westlands Solar Park that could add thousands more MWs in years to come.At the power line crossroads of the state both federal and state policies to move to renewable power is transforming the landscape in rural Kings County. The Navy’s solicitation seeks a Renewable Portfolio Standard contract with a regulated utility or other third party off-taker. The Navy does not intend to consume any energy on-site, or be a major off-taker. However, in lieu of cash consideration for a potential lease arrangement, the Navy may seek in-kind consideration in the form of energy being provided to NAS Lemoore, for energy security purposes, in the case of a utility grid outage.
Other considerations, such as energy storage and/or microgrid infrastructure to enhance energy security are highly desirable says the Navy solicitation.
“Energy is critical to the Department of the Navy’s ability to provide the global presence necessary to ensure stability, deter potential adversaries and present options in times of crisis – wherever and whenever they might arise.” concludes spokesperson Calero.