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California National Guard plans 99-acre solar farm in Los Alamitos

An aerial rendering shows proposed fields of solar panels on both sides of Los Alamitos Army Airfield.
An aerial rendering shows proposed fields of solar panels on both sides of Los Alamitos Army Airfield.

(Courtesy of the California National Guard)

The California National Guard is studying the environmental impacts of installing 99 acres of solar panels at Joint Forces Training Base Los Alamitos that would shrink the base’s carbon footprint while also providing a resilient energy source in the wake of disasters.

If the regional power grid goes down for an extended period following a major earthquake, the base could tap stored battery energy to support civilian and military emergency responses. Los Alamitos Army Air Field is the only military airport in Greater Los Angeles, making it a strategic hub for service members arriving from other states.

“Emergency response is a critical mission of the California National Guard,” Lt. Col. Manju Vig, garrison commander of Joint Forces Training Base, said in a statement. “However, timely and proactive response is predicated on the availability of a secure energy source.”

In addition to military operations, the base is hosting a CH-47 helitanker leased by the Orange County Fire Authority that’s capable of dropping up to 3,000 gallons of water in a single pass. The aircraft’s crew has already had a busy summer helping put out blazes in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

To guarantee military aviation and other critical operations in Los Alamitos, soldiers would fire up diesel-powered generators in the event of a power outage, said Col. Richard Lalor, a spokesperson for the California State Guard.

The 835-pound cannon with a 7-foot barrel is an authentic M-1902 U.S. Army field gun that had been used for training purposes between 1905 and 1917. It was restored in 2013 as an Eagle Scout project.

The solar microgrid project, expected to break ground as early as next year, is roughly divided in half between sections of the base, according to aerial renderings provided by the Guard. One patch of solar arrays would be west of the Navy Golf Course in Cypress and north of Lampson Avenue. The other would run along the base’s western fence line near the Cherry Street neighborhood of Los Alamitos.

California National Guard officials declined to provide an estimated cost of construction. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to lease the land to a private developer that would construct and operate the microgrid, according to an environmental notice.

Despite its vast fleets of gas-guzzling vehicles and aircraft, the U.S. military has recognized climate change as a national security threat for years. In April, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III described the threat’s severity in grim terms.

“We face all kinds of threats in our line of work, but few of them truly deserve to be called existential. The climate crisis does,” he said in a statement, adding that “climate change is making the world more unsafe, and we need to act.”

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2010 requires that military bases produce or procure 25% of their total energy needs from renewable sources by Fiscal Year 2025. Even though the California National Guard is a state-controlled agency, the Los Alamitos base sits on federal land placing it under federal policy recognizing that diverse energy supplies will make the military more resilient at a lower cost to taxpayers.

The project will enhance the Army’s effectiveness by providing power for critical missions during an electrical grid outage, Robert Hughes, acting executive director for the Army Office of Energy Initiatives, said in a statement.

“[It] will also increase power reliability during normal operations by alleviating transmission line congestion, which makes this a win for the installation, the Army, and the larger community,” Hughes said.

Members of the public are invited to share feedback by Aug. 24 on possible impacts from the installation of solar panels and related infrastructure. Send comments to Douglas Bryceson, California Army National Guard, 3900 Roseville Road, North Highlands, CA 95660 or via email to douglas.a.bryceson.nfg@mail.mil.

Daniel Langhorne is a contributor to TimesOC.

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