Over the next 13 years, arrays of solar power generating equipment is set to rise from the vast U.S. Army base of Fort Irwin in the Mojave Desert of California.

It's an ambitious undertaking by the Army, which has selected Clark Energy Group and Acciona Solar Power to develop at least 500 megawatts of solar power projects. Five sites totaling 14,000 acres are available for the project, said David Ruderman, a spokesman for the Baltimore District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Friday.

The Army considers it a pilot project to meet its energy policy, which calls for conservation and the promotion of alternative energy generation. Like the U.S. Department of the Interior, which is setting aside land for solar power development, the military also intends to make some of its vast land holdings available for all types of renewable energy generation.

The Fort Irwin solar project would cost roughly $2 billion, and the Army hopes to see the 500 megawatts completed by 2022, Ruderman said.

"One of the aims of this project is to become energy independent," Ruderman said.

The project is still in the early stages of planning. The Army announced the two developers only Thursday. Clark Energy and Acciona will be charting out an attack plan for securing the necessary permits, equipment and crews to start construction, which is expected to start in 2011, Ruderman said.

Arlington, Va.-based Clark Energy is part of the Clark Enterprise, which also includes real estate and construction companies. Acciona, headquartered in Spain, is a development and construction firm that has built solar thermal power plants and other types of renewable energy projects.

In the United States, Acciona is known for building a 64-megawatt solar thermal project called Nevada Solar One in Boulder City, Nevada in 2007.

The plan is to provide some of the power from the projects to Fort Irwin and sell the rest to private-sector buyers, said Bryon Krug, managing director of Clark Energy. Likely takers include the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power as well as Southern California Edison, Ruderman said.

"This project has the potential to demonstrate how underutilized desert land can be transformed into a growth engine for the clean energy economy of tomorrow," Krug said in an email.

The two developers plan to install both photovoltaic and solar thermal power plants at Fort Irwin, where the Army carries out combat training, and at NASA's Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex. The solar project would have to be done without interfering with the fort's operations.

The Army will lease land to Clark Energy and Acciona for the project and receive in-kind services in return, Ruderman said. The lease, which could last 50 years, will be based on the fair market value of the land, and the rent would be paid in services such as building roads and paving airstrips, he added.

The project could expand by another 500 megawatts, Krug said.

Image courtesy Acciona Solar Power