Friday, June 1, 2012

Military Budget Blowing Away?

Last spring, Fort Huachuca, AZ installed an 850KW wind turbine along the Southeast firing range area, near Garden Canyon. The above photograph was taken in March of 2011 as the turbine was cleaned and maintained. The project was installed to be tested, once in operation, for a year.  Planning and budgeting for the project began in 2006. Fort Huachuca strives to lead the DoD in Energy Conservation Investment Program (ECIP) and Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC) initiatives.

First, an environmental impact study was conducted. According to the Army Energy Security Implementation Strategy standards, environmental impact is last in priority. (5th of 5 priorities). Increasing renewable energy sources ranks 3rd in priority, above environmental considerations. Access to sufficient energy supplies ranks 4th. So, renewable energy sources are a higher priority than even having enough power to maintain mission capabilities, according to this plan.

A 2007 USDoI Environmental Impact study for all Fort Activities found 7 endangered species at risk. They claimed that the ESPC with SSVEC increased compliance with safety and environmental  regulations:

Electrical privatization of the distribution system was accomplished with Sulphur Springs Valley
Electric Co-operative in September 2004. The Fort continues to purchase electricity from
Tucson Electric Power Company. This privatization will have a positive effect as all the power
poles will be brought into not only current safety standards, but also comply with the Migratory
Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) to protect the Bald Eagle and other large predatory birds by installing safety devices to reduce the risk of
Yet an impact study directly referring to the wind turbine projects issued later that year stated a direct concern for protected Agave Palmeri and  the Lesser Long-Nosed Bats that are ecologically interdependent. The study dismissed any impact to either Golden or Bald Eagles, as none had, at that time, been spotted in the proposed project location. The study did, however, ignore the mated pair of Harris Hawks that call that area "home". The study does call for the Turbine to be shut-down and the project reassessed if 10 Lesser Long-Nosed Bats are discovered dead.

In recent months, other environmental considerations concerning large wind turbines came into question. The current theory is that these machines either contribute to or aggravate global warming trends. While further study is necessary to verify this hypothesis, the potential impact of the 850 KW turbine on the Soldiers' training remain unconsidered. After all, that should be the first consideration for any military post:  the training and welfare of the Soldiers.

However, environmental impact remains 5th in priority. Compliance with ECIP, EPA, and USDoE policies and regulations coupled with budgetary considerations and public opinion remain higher priorities. If you couple those with the current executive branch's alliance with George Soros, even more unanswered questions concerning these projects arise. Let us not soon forget the stimulus subsidies to failing solar companies like Solyndra. Solyndra was granted a contract to produce solar panels for the US Navy. Another "renewable energy" contract was for an avionic bio-fuel that costs tax payers far more than fossil aviation fuels. What sort of impacts do these have on our military readiness and national security?

Military activities and installations do need to budget effectively. The more an installation can save on quality infrastructure, the more funds it can divert to Soldier training, Soldier Welfare, Soldier Quality of Life, and Family programs. Naturally, this meant that privatized housing projects on the post include new policies requiring Soldiers to pay part of their energy bill. It should therefore follow that reductions in energy costs would benefit all involved as well as the local community.

Take a look at some facts concerning the 850 KW turbine. It requires winds in excess of 12mph to generate power and 14mph winds for optimal production. Those winds occur regularly in the high desert. However, the winds are not constant. There are days when the winds blow hard enough to require the turbine to be "locked" to prevent damage or overload. There are other days, particularly during monsoon season, when the winds are relatively calm. Those happen to also be the days when energy consumption on the fort is highest due to the heat and humidity.

The environmental impact study suggests reducing operating hours at night to protect the bats. That reduces the operating hours. So the turbine is not contributing to the power grid 24 hours a day, if the recommendation is followed.

Paul Dreissen of TownHall Magazine wrote a great article on wind power' impacts on the environment, economy, and human health. In the article he presents a firm argument against wind-power and wind-power subsidies. Examining his summary of several facts and studies should be enough to raise eyebrows over the employment of wind turbine projects in general. The bottom line is that they cost more than they benefit.If you take his article and apply it to the case of the 850 KW wind turbine on Fort Huachuca, it opens the project up to critical examination.

The initial average cost of an 850 KW turbine is between $765k and $935k, up front. If the turbine ran full-time, maintenance and operational costs are $10.20 and hour plus $.06 per KwH produced. So, at optimal production, running the turbine costs $61.20 an hour. Those are pretty high costs for a "one year test" on the project. That is a lot of beans and bullets. Let's not discuss the fight some of the units/courses on Fort Huachuca had in recent years to be allotted enough ammunition to train to the TRADOC marksmanship training standards.

In addition, Fort Huachuca entered into four ESPC contracts, the forth of which is a 20-year contract at $777,500 a year. That is $15,500,000 of the total $21,690,000 renewable energy contracts Fort Huachuca currently holds with private companies under the ESPC. While projected energy cost savings are estimated at approximately $600k a year, the current costs are piling up. The exact savings cannot be calculated until several years from now.

Costs of Wind Energy itself are skewed. The FY12 budget called for numerous subsidies for "green energy" firms, including wind-power equipment manufacturers. On top of those subsidies, such firms are set to garner $144.2 Million in Production Tax Credits. The USDoE and the AWEA are lobbying for an increase in the PTCs for FY13. This will mark a 20-year long history of ever increasing tax credits for a failing industry. Without those tax credits, analysts state that US manufacturers would be unable to compete in this business, and the products would not be available.

When calculated into the real costs of Wind Power, the "savings" compared to the costs of fossil fuels such as natural gas are in the negative, not savings at all. Considering natural gas costs approximately $2 per 1,000,000 BTUs to produce and utilize, money sunk into wind-turbines is really throwing dollars to the wind. This practice directly contradicts the Army Energy Security Implementation Strategy's first two priorities that dictate lowering energy costs and increasing efficiency. Instead of saving money on energy costs, wind energy is stealing funds from the DoD that could be put to better use, such as better pay, training and equipment for our great men and women in uniform.

Fort Huchuca's primary power contracts through the ESPC are with Sulphur Springs Valley Electrical Co-op. The co-op also serves the majority of Cochise County, AZ. The company is technically an NPO. They have a rebate program for land owners who employ alternative and renewable energy systems on their property. These can be wind-power, photo-electric power (solar panels) and other systems. Given the published successes of the programs on Fort Huachuca, it would seem to follow that these rebates would remain steady or increase. SSVEC reduced the rebate rates by approximately 30% in May of 2011, about the time the 850 KW turbine was erected on Fort Huachuca.