The 2011 National Defense Authorization Act contains a provision that demands the Pentagon vote up or down on the more than 200 renewable energy-related projects that have run aground over Defense Department concerns about how they might impair national security. That backlog must be evaluated by early July, according to the law.
Before the legislation, the pressure was on developers to prove why a project could work without impeding Defense Department equipment, said Dave Belote, the director of the Pentagon's new energy siting clearinghouse. Now, he explained, the Defense Department must prove why a proposed wind farm or solar array would harm its work and indicate why such problems could not be overcome. The law is also designed to ensure that the department will take steps to register its concerns earlier in the siting process.
Now Pentagon decisions on the fate of renewable energy projects must hinge on whether the proposed projects represent an "unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States."
A member survey from the American Wind Energy Association last year indicated that about 10,500 megawatts of wind power has been either delayed or abandoned due to the objections of federal agencies -- with the bulk of concerns coming from the Pentagon.
The change in process gives industry some comfort, said Tom Vinson, director of regulatory affairs at the American Wind Energy Association. "We like the idea of elevating the response in the Department of Defense to make sure the process has been clearly vetted and that due diligence has been done before DOD issues an answer," he said.
Stopping last-minute objections
With the new process, Belote -- the former commander at Nellis Air Force Base during its own 2009 renewable energy dispute over the nearby proposed 110 MW solar project from SolarReserve -- is charged with thumbing through the renewable energy applications and making recommendations to top-level Pentagon officials about how to proceed with each one.
Before this law, military complaints often came during the final stages of planning -- usually when Federal Aviation Administration personnel first laid its eyes on plans.