There are certain things the U.S. military can do on a mass scale better than just about anyone. That list includes mobilizing people; engineering and operating advanced defense technologies; and providing humanitarian aid after disasters, to name a few. 

Perhaps it's time to add "offering sustainable housing" to the list.

Actus Lend Lease certainly hopes so. The military housing builder/developer has launched what it is calling “the nation’s largest solar thermal energy initiative” at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Upon build-out, the project promises to generate enough solar power on site to serve 75% of the domestic hot water needs for 900 new and existing homes. 

Officials estimate that the cumulative carbon reduction of the program (about 1,035 tons of CO2 emissions per year) will be equivalent to taking 255 cars off the highway or planting 10 acres of trees.

The majority of homes slated to receive solar hot water systems are in Tarawa Terrace, a neighborhood of Atlantic Marine Corps Communities (AMCC), a public-private partnership between Actus and the Department of the Navy established following the Military Privatization Act.

Installation of the solar thermal systems began in November 2009 and roughly 50 systems are currently operational. All 900 are expected to be up and running by December 2010. That includes 450 solar systems installed on new homes built by Actus, plus 450 installed as retrofits on existing homes.  Nearly all of the homes in the program are duplex units.

And it’s cheap power, organizers say, thanks to creative financing and energy tax credits. Through a Solar Energy Purchase Agreement, Asheville, N.C.-based FLS Energy is installing the systems and selling the solar energy to AMCC at a rate that is lower than the cost of electricity generated by fossil fuels (made possible, in part, by state tax credits). Power generated by the solar systems will be purchased by Duke Energy in the form of renewable energy certificates. Each mega-watt hour-equivalent of energy generated by the solar energy systems counts as one renewable energy certificate.

“What makes this project unique is that we are getting access to these solar systems with very little capital expenditure up front, and we are still paying less than we would for conventional utilities,” explained Matt Lynn, deputy project director for AMCC. “It’s really a win-win situation.”

The project, which uses solar collectors made by Alternate Energy Technology in Jacksonville, Fla., supports energy conservation goals set forth by the Department of Defense, as well as the state of North Carolina.

“I am committed to finding alternative ways to power North Carolina, and as we continue the discussion of alternative energy sources here, this project is will help us define our state as a world leader in green technology now and for years to come,” said North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue.  
For Actus, it’s the next step in a broad-based effort to green military housing nationwide. Known for public-private partnerships with a sustainability focus, the developer has created other eco-friendly communities at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Fort Drum in New York, and Fort Hood in Texas, among others.

“We’re excited about what this partnership with FLS Energy means … as we strive to create a cleaner environment and increase our energy independence by utilizing renewable, domestic sources of energy,” said Dale Connor, managing director for Actus Lend Lease.

Jenny Sullivan is a senior editor for BUILDER.