Marines look to solar and biofuel power generation

HAWAII - Chastened by high fuel prices, the Marine Corps wants its sprawling base at Kaneohe Bay to become energy self-sufficient by 2015.

Its plan involves building a sizable solar power array around Kansas Tower Hill, which could be operating by next fall.

The plan also includes an electricity generating plant that will run primarily on locally grown biofuels, such as sugar cane or palm oil, or jet fuel in emergencies.

"I'm 100 percent sure" the plan will make the base energy independent "by 2020, but I want to be more aggressive in that goal, and I want to get there by 2015," Col. Robert Rice, commanding officer of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, told The Honolulu Advertiser.

The Corps' effort is one of several that the Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Army are studying for their bases in Hawaii.

For example, a 12-foot-diameter yellow cylinder called a PowerBuoy that floats a mile offshore from the Kaneohe Bay Marine Corps Base generates electricity as part of a wave-power research program. Eventually, an array of such buoys could generate as much as 100 megawatts.

The Army and a private builder is constructing and renovating 7,500 Army homes, many of them with roof-mounted solar power panels that could generate six megawatts.

When the services pooled their projects, with an eye on issuing a formal request for proposal next year, the alternative energy industry grew enthusiastic, said Kendall Kam, project manager for renewable energy initiatives at Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific.

The military is the nation's and Hawaii's largest energy consumer. In Hawaii, the services currently use about 15 percent of the power generated by the Hawaiian Electric Co., and they are the utility's biggest customer.

Federal law requires U.S. agencies to produce or procure 3 percent of their energy usage from renewable sources by next year, with incremental increases to that goal in subsequent years. Another statute specifically requires military installations to produce or purchase 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025.


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