An audit by the Pentagon’s inspector general has found that the Navy, in a hurry to spend funds appropriated by Congress in February 2009’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commissioned a series of expensive and wasteful solar energy projects, including one at Camp Pendleton. “During project planning and selection, officials did not consider whether projects were cost-effective or analyze different types of energy projects to determine the best investments for meeting legislative energy goals,” according to the September 22 report. “Instead, they relied upon project titles, location, cost, and amount of time to award contracts to select projects.”
The audit goes on to say that “Officials also were not well equipped to handle quick timelines for planning and selecting projects because, at the time of the Recovery Act’s implementation, the Navy and Marine Corps did not have processes for completing life-cycle cost analyses, processes for planning and selecting all energy projects, or energy strategies for achieving legislative goals.” The bottom line: investigators concluded that the government “will not recover $25.1 million of the $50.8 million invested” in the three projects reviewed by the audit.
The work in question involved installation of photovoltaic systems, which convert sunlight into electricity. One system was built at Camp Pendleton’s Box Canyon Landfill, the contract for which was awarded in December 2009. “However, at the time the contracts were awarded, most of the planning documentation needed to justify these projects was either inadequate or nonexistent,” the report says. In particular, the cost estimate for the Pendleton project “contained only lump sum costs, and officials could not provide support for how they developed the estimates.”
On top of that, the inspector general concluded, the solar project “will contribute only minimally toward renewable energy goals.” Although Marine Corps brass had a study in hand showing that at Camp Pendleton “61 percent of the system’s investment cost would not be recovered,” they proceeded with the project anyway. As a result, taxpayers “will not recover $5.17 million of the $8.43 million invested in the project.” Pendleton could apply for a refund from the state Energy Commission’s California Solar Initiative program, the audit says, but the Box Canyon project, completed in January of this year, no longer qualifies for the rebates. Officials are currently “negotiating an expansion” of the program with state regulators, which if successful might allow the government to recover as much as $1.17 million.
A July 2010 story about the project by public broadcaster KPBS reported that Marine “Colonel Gary Storey, head of energy management at Pendleton, said federal stimulus money allowed them to develop their plans faster than expected.” Storey told KPBS: “This system, when it goes online, hopefully in December, will effectively triple or quadruple the photovoltaic we’re generating on this base in one fell swoop, and we actually have a follow-up project next year to double that capacity on this site.” Added Diane Keltner, president of San Diego’s Synergy Electric, the contractor that assembled the project: “Once it’s up and people see what’s going on here, I think the phone will be ringing.” Kyocera Solar, a San Diego–based subsidiary of the Japanese electronics firm, supplied the solar panels and related hardware.