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U.S. Army Housing to Get Solar Panel Makeover Courtesy Project SolarStrong

Having the stated objective of achieving 25 percent reliance on renewable energy by the year 2025, the Department of Defense is already off and running in pursuit of that goal. Thanks to the combined efforts of SolarCity and Balfour Beatty Communities, plans are currently in motion to install rooftop solar panels on 4,700 military homes at Fort Bliss, Texas and neighboring White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in New Mexico. The solar equipment that is set to generate up to 13.2 megawatts of capacity when completed will be leased to the Department of Defense by SolarCity, which will perform installation as well as maintenance.

Operating under the moniker SolarStrong, the project is the largest phase to date of SolarCity’s five-year plan to build more than $1 billion of solar projects for approximately 120,000 residential homes on military bases throughout the country. Launched in 2011, the SolarStrong project has announced similar projects in Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickman in Hawaii, Los Angeles Air Force Base in California, and Schriever and Peterson Air Force Bases in Colorado. The SolarStrong project was made possible through financing received primarily from Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

As the largest single energy consumer in the United States, the Department of Defense is taking proactive steps at energy reduction. It has designated Fort Bliss as a “net zero installation” and has indicated that eventually, the Army base will produce energy in direct proportion to the amount it uses. The end result will see the maximization of water reuse and the complete elimination of waste sent to landfills.

"We are moving closer to achieving our goal of reducing our carbon footprint and becoming completely self-sufficient in energy,” said Major General Dana Pittard, Commanding General of the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss. Pittard also indicated that the U.S. Army has established 2018 as the desired deadline for that goal.

Balfour Beatty Communities, which manages all privatized military family housing at Fort Bliss and WSMR, contacted SolarCity in an effort to help the Department of Defense meet its net zero energy goals. With military housing representing approximately 20 percent of the energy used at most military installations, the move to install solar panels on the majority of base housing was an obvious tactical step that will not only benefit the homes themselves, but the entire installation.

According to Maureen Omrod, Corporate Communications Director at Balfour Beatty Capital Group, the energy collected by the installed solar panels will be pooled and used to offset electricity usage throughout the installation. “The technology isn’t just funneling back into the homes,” Omrod said. “Instead, it will be used as an alternative source for the total energy needs of the entire installation.”

Expected construction will begin in January of 2013. SolarCity is currently hiring for 100 positions for installation, electrical and maintenance, all to be tied directly to the project. On completion, the Fort Bliss/White Sands project will generate over 21 million kilowatt hours per year of renewable energy from more than 50,000 solar panels, and will be responsible for offsetting more than 25 percent of the electricity usage of the impacted military housing communities.

Lead image: Military housing via Shutterstock

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Vince Font is a freelance journalist specializing in the fields of renewable energy, high tech, travel, and entertainment. Read his blog at www.vincefont.com or follow him on Twitter @vincefont.

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