Air Force adds 14-MW solar project in Arizona

The U.S. military earlier this year stated a goal of 25% renewable energy by 2025. One small piece of that is being added by the Air Force in Arizona.

The Air Force plans to expand its renewable energy portfolio with a 14.5-MW photovoltaic solar array at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. The project will provide 35% of the energy needed to power the base.

Davis-Monthan has entered into an agreement with SunEdison, LLC to design, finance, build, operate and maintain the array on 170 acres of underutilized base property. Construction will begin soon with completion planned for no later than December 2012.

The power purchase agreement provides electricity to Davis-Monthan at a reduced rate for a period of 25 years saving the base from $400,000 to $500,000 a year in utility costs. It will be slightly larger than the Nellis AFB, Nev., photovoltaic solar array built in 2007, one of the military’s first projects.

The array has to be built and generating electricity by the end of the year.

“The project as it was conceived, contracted and offered to us is only viable and can only be done cost effectively for SunEdison if they can participate in a program to sell the Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to Tucson Electric Power. That program ends the 31st of December 2012,” said Ken Gray, the Rates and Renewables Branch Chief at the Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency, Tyndall AFB, Fla.

Purchasing RECs helps Tucson Electric Power meet state renewable portfolio standards and receive federal tax incentives.

The Air Force currently operates 131 solar, wind, waste-to-energy and landfill gas projects, which help meet goals established by the Energy Policy Act 2005 and Executive Order 13423. It has plans to build 30 new projects by the end of 2013.

The Davis-Monthan solar array required the first Department of Defense approval for an Air Force project of this type. Gray said complying with the National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA, process is also challenging in Arizona where many historical Native American areas exist.

Renewable energy projects on land managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management have faced similar obstacles, sometimes landing in federal court.

The Air Force is also planning a six-MW solar array at Otis Air National Guard Base, Mass., and a 10-MW solar array at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.