Reid says military can do more to develop renewable energy

Sen. Harry Reid on Wednesday challenged Nellis Air Force Base officials to lead the way in promoting renewable energy and reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

But Reid, D-Nev., gave little direction on how to address wind energy and solar power projects planned near a military training range without compromising operations.

Without getting into specifics, the Senate majority leader said he's had "a number of conversations" with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Pentagon officials about the Air Force's concerns involving the Nevada Test and Training Range, formerly known as Nellis Air Force Range.

Air Force officials say dozens of renewable energy projects could affect their ability to test advanced warplanes and train fighter pilots. They cite radar interference from wind turbines and dangers posed by solar towers and glare from thousands of solar mirrors.

"We have to develop renewable energy. We have to protect our military installations," Reid said after a luncheon speech to about 160 attendees of the Nevada Forum in Las Vegas.

"We can do both. There's no reason we can't," he said during a break in the Air Force forum that ends today and focuses on making wind and solar projects compatible with Nellis missions.

Reid noted the solar panel array at the Nellis base, the largest of its kind in North America. It provides 25 percent of the base's electricity. Plans call for building more solar panels to double the base's solar power production.

"The military is holding up their end of the bargain," Reid said. "They're following through on a commitment to use energy more efficiently and use cleaner alternatives."

He said the solar array, which he visited last year with President Barack Obama, "is a really good start but there is a whole lot more we could do and should do to address our critical energy challenges."

During the forum, speakers from the Pentagon and the Air Force said wind turbines too close to the range and solar mirrors could pose problems for pilots who are training in or testing advanced aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Even high-voltage transmission lines need to be studied, they said, because of the potential that electromagnetic interference could affect the range's pristine conditions for aircraft tests.

Terry Yonkers, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics, called for "balancing the Air Force mission" in respect to renewable energy projects planned in Southern Nevada.

He called for the creation of a "clearinghouse" for renewable energy developers that would allow them to work with Air Force officials before proceeding with the projects.

More research is needed to understand whether certain wind and solar energy projects are compatible with Air Force operations, said David Belote, a senior civilian Pentagon employee whose work focuses on large-scale energy projects.

"Before we say yes to something that scares us, or say no, we want to get the facts," said Belote, former commander of the 99th Air base Wing at Nellis.