When it was finished in December of 2007, the solar PV system at Nellis Air Force Base, rated at 14.2 megawatts (MW) and generating more than 30 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, was one of the wonders of the modern world.
It was, according to a U.S. Air Force spokesman, the first step of many in making renewable electricity integral to Air Force operations, and all the more surprising because it came from the military sector, which is often viewed as inflexibly traditional.
The goal is to make the military – the biggest energy user in the federal government – less dependent on foreign oil. The hope is that such efforts will inspire further solar installations across the nation. The fact that the array was built on a capped landfill – usable for little else – demonstrated an environmental sensitivity that won hearts in the “green” movement.
Now, Air Force engineers are talking about building three new solar fields by 2013, each as big as, or bigger than, the Nellis installation. Set for the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona and Luke Air Force Base in Glendale (AZ), the solar fields will essentially quadruple the amount of electricity the Air Force in Arizona gets from clean, renewable solar power.
At Davis-Monthan AFB, a 14.5-MW solar array will be built, owned, operated and maintained by global solar firm SunEdison, on 130 acres of unused land, with the base buying the power on a power purchase agreement, or PPA. The array will provide about 35 percent of the base’s power needs.
The 14.5-MW solar array at Luke AFB will be built in cooperation with Arizona Public Service (APS), the state’s biggest electricity producer. Built on 100 acres of under-utilized land on the base, the solar “farm” will again be operated under a PPA, and offset about half of the base’s electricity needs. It will also save Luke AFB up to $10 million on utility bills over the life of the contract/system, which is 25 years, according to Lt. Col. John Thomas, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron commander.
But Nellis AFB will still come out the leader, thanks to its plans to add a 17-MW array to the existing solar field in 2012.