Solar PV Takes Off at U.S. Air Force Base

Much like the powerful message photovoltaic (PV) installations planned for commercial stores such as Target and Wal-Mart send to the public about the practical benefits of solar power, large-scale projects that involve the U.S. military also have the potential to lead to the widespread use of renewable energy at the “civilian” level.

The Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, which, along with being the “Home of the Fighter Pilot,” will soon house a 15-megawatt (MW) PV system, is one such project. Slated to be the largest solar PV system in North America once completed later this year, construction on the system is now under way after an official groundbreaking ceremony took place in the Mojave Desert yesterday. “The Department of Defense has a long history of developing and commercializing technology that later gains widespread application use. The potential to harness the federal government’s purchasing power to rapidly deploy solar and bring down the costs is being realized with this project, and we anticipate increased use by federal agencies mindful of the need for energy security and price stability,” said Noah Kaye, director of public affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). MMA Renewable Ventures will finance, own and operate the system that will occupy 140 acres of land leased from the Air Force at the western edge of the base – and sell the power to Nellis under the terms of a Power Purchase Agreement. The ground-mounted solar system will feature approximately 70,000 panels and employ an advanced tracking system, designed and deployed by PowerLight, a subsidiary of SunPower Corp., to follow the sun. “In addition to its sheer size and the Air Force’s impressive dedication to furthering renewable energy deployment, the Nellis project demonstrates how a carefully crafted third-party finance solution can effectively meet the needs of even the largest federal and municipal energy consumers,” said Matt Cheney, CEO of MMA Renewable Ventures. Even though the system is rated at approximately 15 MW, the patented PowerLight PowerTracker system will capture up to 30 percent more energy than an equivalent ground-mounted fixed-tilt system — and produce the same amount of power generated as a fixed-mounted rooftop solar system with a rating of 18 MW. With the ability to supply more than 25 percent of the power used at the base, the Nellis solar energy system is expected to generate over 25 million kilowatt-hours of clean electricity annually and support the more than 12,000 military and civilians responsible for Air Force advanced combat training, tactics development and operational testing. “The Nellis solar power plant is the start of the way ahead for future [Department of Defense] and community partnerships,” said Col. Michael Bartley, commander of the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis. “The base will benefit from the energy produced, the environment benefits from using clean solar energy, and we may even test state-of-the-art security measures at the site. This is a good thing for everyone.”
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