ATLANTA — Georgia military installations at Fort Stewart, Fort Gordon, Fort Benning and Kings Bay will one day be housing solar farms that can make them independent of the power grid in emergencies, Pentagon officials announced Thursday.
“The Navy is pursuing renewable energy at our bases to improve our energy security, operational capability and resource availability,” said Capt. John Kliem, deputy director of the Navy Renewable Energy Program.

Georgia Power will hire contractors to install solar panels to generate 30-megawatts of electricity at each of three U.S. Army and one U.S. Navy bases by 2016. Each could take about 130 acres to accommodate the necessary glass panels.

The electricity will be made available to all of Georgia Power’s customers except in emergencies when the bases will have first claim to it.

“We have a requirement to have power at all times,” said Maj. Gen. Al Aycock, the Army’s assistant chief of staff for installation management. “We’ve had crises at our bases that involved natural disasters — ice storms and hurricanes and whatnot. During those times, we need to have power to still fulfill our missions.”

The Georgia Public Service Commission voted Thursday to allow Georgia Power to build the solar systems to meet capacity the commission ordered it in 2007 to have from burning biomass. The utility had little luck in finding ways to cost-effectively generate electricity from various trees and grasses and was looking to convert that amount of generating capacity to another renewable source when the Pentagon decided its bases needed green energy. So, Thursday’s announcement satisfies both the Pentagon and the commission.

“This is more than just power for today. This is power for the future,” Aycock said. ”

The utility will cover the construction costs, not the military or other electricity customers.

“A requirement for these projects is that they will not put any upward pressure on rates,” said Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, who is running for re-election and has been pushing Georgia Power to install more solar generation.

Wednesday, the Solar Electric Power Association named the company its investor-owned utility of the year. It is in the midst of acquiring 900 megawatts of solar generating capacity from private power companies and individual customers across the state.
“We continue to cultivate solar resources as part of a balanced, diverse mix to provide Georgians with clean, reliable and affordable energy now and in the future,” said Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers.

By meeting the military’s renewable-energy goals, the solar farms could also count in Georgia’s favor the next time the Pentagon considers which bases to close. And Bowers noted that there are more than 100,000 jobs ties to the state’s bases.
Details about where on the bases the solar panels will be installed and by which contractor remain to be resolved.
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