While the U.S. Air Force remains the largest energy user in the federal government, many Air Force bases are making significant strides to generate renewable energy on-site.
Most recently, an Arizona utility has teamed up with an Air Forcebase to build the largest solar installation on U.S. governmentproperty. Arizona Public Service Co. (APS), a unit of Pinnacle West Capital Corp. (NYSE: PNW), will build, own and operate 52,000 high-efficiency solar panels covering 100 acres on Luke Air Force Base. Set to be up and running by next summer, the solar project will havea capacity of 15 megawatts and produce enough energy to satisfy 50% ofthe base’s energy needs.
The project is expected to save between $7 to $10 million on electricity costs over 25 years, according to Lt. Col. John Thomas, commander of the 56th Civil Engineer Squadron which maintains and develops base facilities.
Earlier this summer, the Los Angeles Air Force Base completed the final phase of a photovoltaic roof over a parking lot, providing the added benefit of shade for the parked vehicles. Theenergy harvested by the PV system will be used on base and reduce theenergy purchased from Southern California Edison. The "PV Canopy Project" is part of the Base’s $2.1 million Energy Reductions Project.
Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico is gearing up to follow suit with its own solar photovoltaic parking lot cover and a 20 megawatt photovoltaic plant.
The Air Force has a history of building large-scale solar installations. At the time it went online in December 2007, the Nellis Air Force Base photovoltaic solar power plant was the largest in the country, generating 14 megawatts of energy.
Renewable generation is only part of the overall strategy to greenthe Air Force, with energy efficiency playing an important role aswell. The Air Force has reduced energy use on bases by nearly 15 percent since 2003.
Air Force bases are guided by the 2010 Air Force Energy Plan [PDF], which complies with federal energy mandates and provides a frameworkfor reducing demand, increasing supply and fostering culture change tosupport the transition to more efficient operations. The plan includes a facility renewable energy goal of 25% by 2025 – and 50% of thatincrease must come from new renewable sources.
At the White House Office of Energy and Climate-sponsored Clean Energy Forum earlier this month, the Undersecretary of the Air Force Erin Conaton said, “We’re trying to take a targeted look at what types of bases could make use of what types of renewable energy and take that even further as wemove forward.”
Despite its well-intentioned plans, the Air Force has been criticized for not moving quickly enough to implement the projects.
Speaking Wednesday at the Nevada Forum in Las Vegas, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pressed Air Force leadershipto pick up the pace. Noting that the solar project at Nellis AFB was a"really good start," Sen. Reid noted that "there is a whole lot more wecould do and should do to address our critical energy challenges."
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