The U.S. Department of Defense, as we reported this month, has become the home of several very large-scale renewable energy projects. The reasons are simple: the military owns lots of empty land, it has complete jurisdiction over that territory, and its energy needs are insatiable. To that end, the U.S. Army, which to date has lagged the Air Force and the Navy in its energy initiatives, has just announced plans to build a 500-megawatt solar thermal plant at Fort Irwin, in California. The Mojave desert, an empty and hot place, has long been the home of solar thermal activity in the United States, in large part because it receives some of the strongest solar radiation in the world. The Army also reaffirmed its interest in a 30-megawatt geothermal power plant at Hawthorne Army Depot, using geothermal research from the Navy.
The Army's endeavor marks the military's first foray into solar thermal. The plant will be about equal in size to the Mojave Solar Park 1, which is being developed by Solel Solar Systems and is expected to be operational in 2011. However, contrary to what this CNET article reports, the Army's solar power plant will not "eclipse today's largest U.S. solar thermal installation of 14 megawatts at Nellis Air Force Base" -- that solar installation, though large, is photovoltaic. For more on the Nellis photovoltaic field and other military energy projects, check out this slide show.