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US Air Force Scores Biggest Ever Military Solar Power Plant

It looks like the Air Force wins the week in terms of military renewable energy projects. The biggest military solar power plant in the US has just been completed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, a 16.4 megawatt installation that is expected to save about $500,000 in electricity costs yearly and provide about 35 percent of the base’s electricity needs.

If you’re keeping score at home, the new military solar power plant nudges the Air Force ahead of the Army, at least for now. Earlier this week, the Army Corps of Engineers and Energy Initiatives Task Force announced 15 contracts for military solar power, which is pretty impressive, but that was a preliminary step involving the formation of a pool of eligible bidders for future projects.

biggest ever US Military solar project at Davis Monthan AFB.

Davis-Monthan AFB “Green in the Desert” courtesy of USAF.

Chevron…There They Go Again

Now here’s something interesting. One of those 15 winning Army contracts went to Chevron Energy Solutions, which is also part of the public-private partnership that went into building the new solar power plant at Davis-Monthan AFB.

Chevron Energy Solutions is under the Chevron umbrella. Chevron recently made news for giving away free pizza coupons after a massive gas line explosion in Pennsylvania, but Chevron Energy Solutions has been running hard on the solar track with a focus on government and school facilities.

Another partner in the project is Macquarie Infrastructure Company, which also has fossil fuel interests along with a range of other infrastructure operations. Like Chevron it has diversified into renewable energy, through MIC Solar Energy Holdings.

A more familiar name in the solar business, SunEdison, constructed and will manage the new solar power plant under contract with MIC Solar.

For the record, the installation itself consists of 57,000 SunEdison MEMC Silvantis™ solar modules. They are mounted on single-axis trackers that pivot to take best advantage of the sun’s position throughout the day.

Also for the record, the project was financed by North American Development Bank, which was set up by the US and Mexico to develop infrastructure projects that benefit the environment along the border.

The new project enables Davis-Monthan to avoid about 17,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, 11 metric tons of nitrogen oxides, and 17 metric tons of sulfur dioxide annually.

It was built under a power purchase agreement with no up-front cost to the Air Force, so no taxpayers were harmed in the making of this renewable energy project.

Air Force Solar Power

Now let’s take a look at how the new solar installation plays into the Davis-Monthan mission, which is this:

Deploy, employ, support, and sustain attack airpower in support of Combatant Commanders anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. Train the finest attack pilots for the Combat Air Forces. Provide every member of Team D-M with responsive, tailored, mission-focused base support.

At first glance there’s not much of an overlap there, but now take a look at the Davis-Monthan vision:

A premier Fighter Wing comprised of resilient Warrior Airmen, armed with precise tools and training; powered by a culture of leadership and innovation; prepared to provide responsive combat airpower which exceeds Combatant Command expectations for excellence.

And here is a snippet from the base’s “Green in the Desert” program demonstrating how the culture of leadership and innovation dovetails with clean energy:

…the DM Energy Team has begun redeveloping the base’s strategy with high-tech solutions to meet Air Force wide mandates in four areas: new technology, strategic partnerships, energy awareness, and focus on the basics. With innovation and energy consciousness in every Airman’s life, we can meet the Air Force goal to “Think green, build green, and fly blue.”

It’s also worth noting that Davis-Monthan is one of those military facilities transitioning out of coal power and into renewable energy than to natural gas from fossil sources (Fort Drum in New York is another recent example).

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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