I was listening again to a TED Talk by Katharine Hayhoe that is the most effective and intelligent discussion of climate change that I’ve ever heard. She is a Canadian who lives in Texas, which is – like Alberta – most often associated with fossil fuel extraction and high carbon emissions. Yet both the US state and the Canadian province are producing a lot of clean, renewable energy these days.
She noted that Texas had more than 25,000 jobs in wind energy and was almost up to getting 20% of its electricity from clean, renewable sources (and this TED talk was in 2018, so the figures have risen since then, of course.)
But what caught my attention was her statement that the largest US army base, Fort Hood (just renamed Fort Cavazos), was now powered by wind and solar energy and thus saving taxpayers more than $150 million.
I was intrigued and I wanted to know more.
Fort Cavazos, known as the “Great Place”, is not just the largest military base in the US. It’s also one of the largest US military bases around the world.
Located in Killeen, Texas, about 60 miles north of Austin, its 6,348 buildings cover 218,000 acres. It has 770 miles of paved roadways, nine schools with more than 24,000 students, 99 barracks, nine gyms, two grocery stores, 12 chapels, and more than 6,700 family quarters. About 50,000 people live there.
In 2016, it became the US Army’s first hybrid wind and solar project, combining on-site and off-site facilities, and expected to save about $168 million over a 28-year contract. Before 2015, Fort Hood got 75% of its power from fossil fuels.
And it is not just Fort Cavazos. The US Army’s energy bill is massive, and being able to save money on energy means more money for its critical missions. During the groundbreaking ceremony in January 2016, Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment, noted that the federal government is the largest energy user in the US and the Army is the largest facility energy user.
“Last year, [the Army’s energy bill] cost us $1.3 billion, and when we look at this project here that is going to save money across the term of the contract for the Army, that is money that we can put elsewhere, to critical missions, and that’s important to us,” she said. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done so far, and I look forward to the Army continuing to lead by example in energy efficiency and in renewable energy projects.”
Fort Cavazos began thinking about how to reduce its energy use and meet 100% of its electrical energy needs from renewable sources in 2014, after Hammack asked them to look into their energy security. In 2012, the US Department of Defense had committed itself to a Net Zero initiative with the goal of deploying three gigawatts of renewable energy—including solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal—on Army, Navy, and Air Force installations by 2025.
“The actual difference in lower power prices for the 30-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) versus conventional power was a pleasant surprise,” said Timi Dutchuk, Chief of Environmental Programs at Fort Cavazos. “The additional benefit was the willingness from the developer to include an information center at Fort Hood, to provide education on environmental stewardship and the positive aspects of the project to the public.”
The official shift to renewables happened in 2017, when a field of 63,000 solar panels, spanning over 132 acres on West Fort Cavazos, and 21 wind turbines in Floyd County in the panhandle of Texas, began supplying the military post with around 65 megawatts of power.
Public works director Brian Dosa said that not only would the project save millions of dollars off the cost of energy in the future at Fort Cavazos, it came at no upfront cost to the Army.
“The way that this arrangement works is, the Army and the U.S. government doesn’t have any up-front investment at all in this project,” he explained. “A private company, called Apex Clean Energy, got investors to come up with the money, to invest the money, to build this solar array and to build the wind turbines out in West Texas. They’re going to lease the land, here on Fort Hood from the Army, lease the land out in West Texas, build the infrastructure, own it, operate it and then they’re going to sell the electricity back to Fort Hood over the course of 30 years.”
The long-term commitment enabled the contractor to finance, build and operate the solar and wind sites and deliver power to Fort Cavazos that is less expensive than conventional power.
Construction on the 21 wind turbines was complete in January 2017 and was fully operational March 24. Construction on the Phantom Solar arrays was completed April 15 but electrons began flowing on March 29. “It’s going to save us by giving us lower utility rates locked in for the next 30 years,” Dosa said.
In the first year, Fort Cavazos saved about $2.5 million in energy costs while providing 39% of the installation’s total energy from renewables. If the wind energy generation goes offline, Fort Cavazos will continue to receive power from the solar field as well as conventional commercial energy from the grid. The onsite solar field is micro-grid-capable.
The combined Cotton Plains Wind and Phantom Solar was the first hybrid project contracted and installed on a US military installation, and it won Fort Cavazos the 2018 Secretary of the Army Energy and Water Management Award for On-Site Energy Generation.
Across the US, other military installations are adopting a similar approach. In 2015, Fort Huachuca in Arizona also launched its new energy plan, with one quarter of its power coming from a 68-acre, 17.2-megawatt photovoltaic array owned and operated by Tucson Electric Power. It is equivalent to the amount of energy required to power more than 3,000 homes, and offsets approximately 58,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. At Fort Drum, New York, where 50,000 troops are trained annually, about 28 megawatts of electricity now come from a renewable energy biomass facility to meet the base’s energy needs.
Solar, wind provide renewable, secure energy to Fort Hood. Fort Hood Sentinel, Jun. 8, 2017
Fort Hood’s hybrid renewable energy project wins award. US Army, Oct. 31 2018
Fort Hood embraces renewable energy, other military posts follow suit. How We Respond/AAAS, Sep. 2019
Fort Hood Gets a New Name: Fort Cavazos. New York Times, May 9, 2023
All photos courtesy of the US Army.