April 11, 2012 / 10:03 AM / 8 years ago

US military sets goal to cut power grid dependence

* Builds on goal Obama set in State of the Union

* Could require $20 bln in private financing

* Administration also sets power storage competition

By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON, April 11 (Reuters) - The Obama administration set a goal on Wednesday of building three gigawatts of solar, wind, and geothermal power capacity on U.S. military installations by 2025 that could require about $20 billion in private financing.

“We are doing it not principally to be green, we’re doing it principally to provide greater security for our installations,” an administration official told reporters in a teleconference.

The renewable electricity capacity, which is the equivalent of three nuclear power stations, would be built on installations mainly in the United States, many of which have directly supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently the installations rely on the commercial power grid for electricity.

“We have concerns that if the grid were disrupted for any length of time critical missions that we carry out on our installations could be at risk,” the official said.

The goal builds on President Barack Obama’s announcement in the State of the Union address in January that the Navy has pledged to develop 1 gigawatt of renewable power on its installations by 2020.

The Air Force plans to develop 1 gigawatt by 2016 and the Army plans to obtain 1 gigawatt by 2025, administration officials said.

As average U.S. gasoline prices hover near $4 a gallon this election year the administration is touting an “all of the above” energy strategy to increase development of both conventional and alternative energy. As Republicans blame Obama for high fuel prices he has said there is no silver bullet to tamp down prices for oil which are set on global markets.

The Army has estimated its renewable energy goal could require $7 billion in private financing, the official said, so by extension the total financing needed could be more than $20 billion.

Private financing is “really the only economic way to do these kinds of projects on our installations because private developers can tap tax incentives that are not available to the federal government,” another administration official said.

The administration is still fighting off criticism about a more than $500 million Department of Energy loan guarantee made to Solyndra, a solar company that later failed.

The Army will also open a laboratory in Detroit on Wednesday, known as the Ground Systems Power and Energy Lab, to develop combat vehicles that will burn less fuel with hybrid engines, new materials, efficient engines that burn alternative fuels.

“We’ve seen thousands of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan over the years related to moving and protecting fuel,” said another administration official. “This is all about the soldiers, and for soldiers to get to the fight and get around the fight  they have to have powerful and reliable vehicles.”

In addition, the Energy Department launched a $30 million research competition for improved batteries and other ways to store energy at military operations and on combat vehicles. (Reporting By Timothy Gardner; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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