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More bases accepting solar power as an energy alternative

Jul. 9, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
SolarCity is underway with project SolarStrong, providing solar electricity to the Soaring Heights housing community at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.
SolarCity is underway with project SolarStrong, providing solar electricity to the Soaring Heights housing community at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. (Courtesy of SolarCity)
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Airmen can expect to see more solar panels throughout their bases, in their neighborhoods and even on their rooftops.

Plans call for solar power to make up 58 percent of the military’s renewable energy capability by 2017, according to a report released in May by the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The Air Force expects to generate 1 gigawatt of renewable energy by 2016. Its goal is to have enough renewable energy to supply 25 percent of all installation electricity use by 2025, Air Force officials announced last year.

With solar energy already juicing up Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., and Davis-Monthan, Ariz., and projects in the works for others, the latest project is underway at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. Dubbed SolarStrong, the program plans to provide solar power for up to 120,000 military homes within a five-year plan across the U.S.

“Our goal here is to generate cost-saving measures for the base, to create jobs and to help the military reduce its dependence on fossil fuels while securing more energy resources,” said Jonathan Bass, senior director of communications at SolarCity, the company heading the project at Holloman.

If you’re seeing changes on your base, here’s what you need to know:

1. How it helps. As outlined in the May 2013 report, “Enlisting the Sun: Powering the U.S. Military with Solar Energy,” the military will not only have lower energy costs but will also be better protected against cyberattack and storm-related power failures as solar power projects expand. For the Holloman base, the goal is to provide solar electricity to more than 600 military homes at Soaring Heights Communities, a military family housing community, and reduce its energy consumption by 20 percent. “Improvements to housing and facilities for our airmen and families depend on many things, but chief among them is the stability of expenses,” said Jim Switzer, spokesman for the project at Holloman. “This solar project helps that effort by securing one electric rate for the next 20 years that is below our current cost of electricity.”

2. The step-by-step. The solar panels are made up of photovoltaic cells, which convert sunlight into direct current power. The DC power from the solar panels is converted into alternating current power, or standard electrical current used in the home. “Each house is also independently connected to a larger electrical grid,” Bass said, for when electricity is needed without solar power, such as at night.

3. How much will it save? “We’re 100 percent financing these systems ourselves and are selling power to the community,” Bass said. “It’s like taking [your monthly] utility bill from the local utility and offsetting a portion of that energy used with substituted solar power.” Air Force officials have also made an example of the Nellis Air Force Base solar array, which spans 140 acres and is the second largest solar photovoltaic power plant in North America. Completed in 2007, the system generates 14 megawatts and saves the base about $1 million a year.

4. Bases on board. SolarStrong projects are underway at Fort Bliss in Texas, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Navy Region Hawaii and Tierra Vista Communities. A 900-home project at Soaring Heights Communities at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base provided the initial blueprint for SolarStrong in 2009.

5. The push for more. “Enlisting the Sun: Powering the U.S. Military with Solar Energy” cites the Navy has installed the most solar power generation projects, producing 58 megawatts of power as of early 2013. The Air Force and the Army each produce 36 megawatts. By 2017, solar energy will produce 1.9 gigawatts of power for stateside bases and 3.3 gigawatts by 2025. According to Air Force officials, the service is the second biggest user of renewable energy in the federal government. In fiscal year 2011, 6 percent of the Air Force’s total facility energy came from renewables. The 131 wind, solar, ground source thermal and landfill gas projects underway at 56 Air Force installations are expected to generate 37 megawatts of renewable energy. Another 50 projects, either under construction or soon-to-be awarded, are expected to generate an additional 19 megawatts of renewable energy.

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