Navy Secretary Ray Mabus speaks before signing the agreement with Sempra. Photo by Chris Jennewein

Sempra Energy signed an agreement Thursday to provide a record amount of renewable, solar energy to 14 Navy and Marine Corps installations in California.

The bases will get a third their energy requirements from a 210-megawatt solar installation located 60 miles west of Phoenix. The Mesquite Solar 3 project, comprising more than 650,000 photovoltaic panels, will be complete by the end of 2016.

“We are going to build you a beautiful, efficient plant,” said Patti Wagner, president and CEO of Sempra U.S. Gas & power, noting that it’s the largest federal purchase of renewable energy ever.

Sempra’s Mesquite solar installation. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Energy

Wagner and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus signed the agreement during a ceremony at Naval Base Coronado, with the carriers USS George Washington, USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Regan in the background.

“Behind me are three great examples of renewable energy,” said Mabus, noting that the Navy has been in the forefront of developing new energy sources, from sail power to coal to oil to nuclear energy and now solar.

“Every single time we switched energy course, there were naysayers,” he said. “Every single time those naysayers were wrong, and they are wrong this time.”

He said the U.S. military is the world’s largest user of fossil fuel, and therefore is focused on both saving money and ensuring secure supplies.

Mabus praised the efforts of Rep. Scott Peters in helping the Navy exploit renewable energy. Peters, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said no one would consider the Navy and Marines to be “tree huggers,” but developing renewable energy is important for America’s long-term security.

“By investing in alternate sources and diversifying their energy supply portfolio, the DOD can lead the way in advancing renewable energy technologies,” Peters said.

The 25-year purchase agreement with Sempra is expected to save the Navy up to $400 million compared to traditional energy sources.

In 2009 Congress mandated the Department of Defense to procure 25 percent of its energy requirements from renewable sources by 2025.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.