Largest residential solar project planned by SolarCity

The nation’s largest solar-powered community has just been announced at a military complex in the Southwest. SolarCity’s $1 bn SolarStrong initiative will power 4,700 homes at Fort Bliss, Texas and a nearby missile range in New Mexico to create the largest solar installation on military housing.

The 13-MW project is a collaboration of solar lease and project developer SolarCity and Balfour Beatty Communities LLC. Balfour Beatty manages residential communities on Fort Bliss, Texas, and the adjacent White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in New Mexico.

This project is the next and largest phase of SolarStrong, SolarCity’s five-year plan to provide solar energy for up to 120,000 military homes throughout the United States. SolarCity recently filed a registration statement to become a public company.

The project is an equipment lease arrangement, primarily financed by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which supports the U.S. Army’s ‘Net Zero’ energy consumption goal, which intends to produce as much energy at an installation as it consumes.

SolarStrong planning began in mid-2010, when SolarCity did not believe it could secure financing for a project of this scope without a federal loan guarantee. When the application fell through, SolarCity and BofA Merrill continued to work to close SolarStrong without the loan guarantee.

SolarCity expects to begin construction in January.

The Defense Department is currently the largest energy consumer in the U.S. and has a goal to have 25% of its energy requirements met by renewables by 2025.

“Fort Bliss continues to make advances in reducing its overall energy footprint and demonstrating its leadership on the forefront of energy efficiency,” said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army (Installations, Energy & Environment). “This public/private partnership is a strategic and significant investment which will, over the life cycle of the installed photo-voltaic system, save the government money while providing an alternative and sustainable source of energy to the installation. I am confident the Army will continue to lead the way on innovative business partnerships like the one here at Fort Bliss.”

SolarCity will engineer, install and maintain the solar systems at Fort Bliss and WSMR which, at 1,700 and 3,200 square miles respectively, represent two of the Army’s largest installations. Once fully deployed, the project will create the nation’s largest solar-powered community, generating more than 21,120,000 kWh per year from more than 50,000 solar panels, while offsetting more than 25% of the electricity typically used in each community.

“The number of soldiers assigned to Fort Bliss is expected to exceed 30,000 by the end of the year, and providing efficient solar electricity to installation residents helps the Army facilitate its strategic growth in El Paso,” said SolarCity Vice President of Solar Development Aaron Gillmore, who is also a veteran U.S. Navy Officer. “In partnership with Balfour Beatty Communities we’re helping to secure more of the installation’s electricity supply from a domestic, renewable source.”