Military housing: It’s red, white and green

 

Solar powered homes at Davis Monthan AFB in Tucson

Unless you serve in the military, you have probably never heard of Lend Lease. A global, publicly-traded property development and management firm headquartered in Australia, Lend Lease is best known in the U.S. as a provider of military housing, on big Army and Navy bases including Fort Drum in upstate New York, Fort Hood in Texas and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

Lend Lease and its military partners together are developing some of the “greenest” communities in the U.S., including two of the two largest solar-powered communities in the nation, at Island Palm Communities in Hawaii and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tuscon; New York State’s largest energy-efficient community development at Fort Drum Mountain Community Homes and Fort Hood Family Housing, the largest LEED Silver-certified community in Texas.

Lend Lease also operates in the private sector; the company says it built the first LEED-certified McDonald’s and it’s building the athlete’s village for the 2012 London Olympics.. But when I met recently with two U.S.-based Lend Lease executives–Krista Sprenger, vice president of sustainability, and Cindy Gersch, vice president of marketing and global affairs–we focused on the military work, which is extensive: 40,000 homes at 19 installations in 12 states.

The Department of Defense has been privatizing military housing since 1996, they told me. The DOD gives Lend Lease the land under a long-term lease. The company builds, owns and maintains the homes. It then  rents them to military families, most of whom have the option of using the basic housing allowance to stay on base or rent nearby.

There’s no requirement from the Pentagon that homes be solar-powered or energy-efficient. But because Lend Lease is a long-term owner with deep pockets and access to low-cost capital, and because the company typically pays for utilities for the military families, investing in solar and efficiency make business sense.

“When we are going to be able to operate a property for 50 years, we may be able to push out the payback times,” Krista said. “It becomes an attractive deal. And it is part of who we are and how we do business.”

While the solar communities are bigger than most, if not all others, in the nation, they are still small in the grand scheme of things–6 MW in Hawaii and another 6MW in Tucson. At a The Air Force says that the  Soaring Heights development in Tuscon, which includes ground and roof-mounted arrays, supplies 75 percent of electric usage to more than 200 new homes for base housing.

In fact, Lend Lease’s founder, Dick Dusseldorf, who was clearly a man ahead of his time, said back in 1973:

The time is not far off when companies will have to justify their worth to society, with greater emphasis places on envirommental and social impacts than straight economics.

While the solar communities are bigger than most, if not all others, in the nation, they are still small in the grand scheme of things–6 MW in Hawaii and another 6MW in Tucson. At a The Air Force says that the  Soaring Heights development in Tuscon, which includes ground and roof-mounted arrays, supplies 75 percent of electric usage to more than 200 new homes for base housing.

Lend Lease also works with its tenants to show they how to conserve energy. (Remember, as the owner, the company generally pays the bills.) Military families at Fort Drum can earn reward points by cutting their consumption and if they go above a baseline number, they pay for the extra costs. “Some of our homes consumed three times the energy of others,” Krista said. The firm offers free energy assessments, showing tenants where they can save. The company in July said it was committed to a 20% energy-reduction goal for its entire portfolio of military homes.

None of this, by itself, will make a meaningful contribution to curbing global greenhouse gas emissions. But small steps like these matter, if only because they can help change the conversation about climate change and clean energy. Military bases embracing solar-powered homes will help solar go mainstream, and the sooner, the better.

Comments

  1. I have noticed a lot of solar in O’ahu Hawaii this visit, especially at Hickam, AFB. Finally, some forward thinking taking place. The trend must continue.
    ~jc

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