The Air Force is trying to turn dust into dollars at Edwards Air Force Base by leasing 3,228 acres of unused land to Fotowatio Renewable Ventures to build a 450-megawatt solar field.
In exchange, the developer will provide the base, deep in southern California’s Mojave Desert, with up to 30 megawatts of electricity annually, and have the ability to sell any excess electricity it generates to other customers. In short, the developer stands to pull in $34 million annually in energy sales to local utilities and other customers based on pricing data from the Energy Information Administration.
But for the deal to go through, the Air Force needs the approval of another federal agency: the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management. That is because BLM owns the land and has final say over its use.
And BLM wants a cut of the action and a hand in the deal.
“We are going to run into problems on this one,” said Terry Yonkers, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for installations, environment and logistics, at a May conference.
BLM manages most federal lands — including more than half the lands on domestic military bases — and is responsible for ensuring that a portion of the revenues generated from exploitation of those lands — such as oil drilling or minerals mining — goes back to the U.S. treasury.
BLM has the ability to revoke the Defense Department’s rights to use its lands if it is not used for military purposes, such as test ranges and exercises.
But increasingly, military services are looking to parlay that property for another use: renewable energy. Government mandates that agencies use more renewable energy and shrink their carbon footprint, combined with the recent emergence of creative public-private financing options — known as enhanced use leases — makes such deals easier.