7.5 MW Of New Rooftop Solar In One Blow For US Navy

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For rooftop solar to hit the 7.5 megawatt mark, that’s either a mighty big roof or a lot of little roofs. If you guessed the latter, go run out and buy yourself a cigar. Solar giant SolarCity has just announced the completion of a “massive” 7.5 megawatt rooftop solar project spread out among military housing at five different US Navy bases among the four east coast states of Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island.

rooftop solar US Navy

More Rooftop Solar For The US Navy

The new group of rooftop solar installations is part of the Navy’s contribution to SolarStrong, which is the Defense Department’s $1 billion initiative with SolarCity to bring rooftop solar to its military housing.

That’s not $1 billion on the taxpayers’ dime, by the way. The Defense Department undertook a base housing privatization initiative a few years back as a cost-cutting measure, and SolarStrong leverages that relationship to install rooftop solar on a power purchase agreement basis.

For those of you new to the topic, PPA means you don’t pay for or own the solar panels, you just pay for the electricity which is typically a lower rate than your utility charges for grid sources. Even without the lower rate, the emergence of cost-effective energy storage solutions makes on-site solar energy an attractive option for enhancing security at sensitive facilities such as military bases.

Who could hate it?

If you guessed Republicans, run out and buy yourself another cigar. In fact, the anti-solar force was running so deep within the Republican-controlled Congress that they succeeded in killing SolarStrong almost immediately after it launched in September 2011. They did that by putting the kibosh on funding to continue the Energy Department’s high-performing Loan Programs Office, in the wake of the ginned-up Solyndra “scandal.” The lights were set to turn off in September 2011, and the SolarCity loan agreement didn’t make it under the wire in time.

Some fast financial footwork by Bank of America-Merrill Lynch and SolarCity by late November 2011 saved the day. U.S. Bancorp took up the slack shortly after that by setting up a renewable energy equity fund with SolarCity, and the rest is history.

By 2012 the U.S. Air Force was on board with SolarStrong for a SolarCity rooftop solar program for its base housing with the global real estate company and notable solar fan Lend Lease.

That round covered more than 850 military homes at Los Angeles Air Force Base and two bases in Colorado Springs, Peterson AFB and Schriever AFB, for a total of 18,000 solar panels generating about 6.4 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.

The idea was to provide for up to 60 percent of the electricity used by housing at the bases, and to help stabilize the local grid by shaving peak grid use in the summer.

The latest venture teams SolarCity with the company Balfour Beatty Communities, continuing a relationship that has already installed 13.3 megawatts of rooftop solar for housing at Fort Bliss in Texas.

The new round of bases consists of Mitchell Field and Naval Support Activity in New York, Naval Submarine Base in Connecticut, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, and Naval Station in Rhode Island.

As far as job creation goes, SolarStrong alone has enabled SolarCity to add about 24 staff positions just for the new round of installations. The company has also recruited about 90 of its existing staff to speed up the process.

There’s also this from SolarCity:

SolarCity emphasizes veteran hiring across the company, and has hired military veterans in over 90 locations across the United States in installation, recruiting, business development, sales and more.

Whatever Happened To The Loan Programs Office?

Speaking of jobs, the Loan Programs Office eventually somehow — and very quietly — came back from the dead in December 2013, and if you have an idea of how that happened, drop us a note in the comment thread.

Anyway, it’s all water under the bridge and the office has been chugging away quite nicely. Earlier this month, on March 3, Mark A. McCall, its Executive Director, was hauled before the US House of Representatives Subcommittees of the Committee on Science, Space, & Technology to testify about the program. After listing his extensive qualifications to hold that title, he reminded his audience that it’s high time to switch gears from 20th century extractive fuels to something a little more current:

My background in the upstream oil and gas market has informed my view of the challenges and opportunities for the U.S. to be at the cutting edge of commercializing new energy technologies.

McCall noted that the Loan Programs Office was launched by an Act of Congress in 2005 as a risk-based endeavor and it has amassed an exemplary track record:

…actual and estimated losses for the portfolio represent just above two percent of closed and committed loans and loan guarantees – a rate that would be viewed favorably even in the private sector for a portfolio of a similar type.

He also took note of the office’s clean energy and job-creating accomplishments:

As of September 2015, LPO projects have avoided 25 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and the amount of CO2 avoided will continue to grow as projects achieve full commercial operation. In addition, LPO projects have supported local economies, supporting 56,000 good-paying American jobs across 16 states.

For those of you keeping score at home, yes, the Tesla Motor Company really was launched by LPO (the company repaid the loan nine years ahead of schedule, in 2013).

Another high profile loan client has been Ford, as described by McCall:

Ford Motor Company is helping to position the U.S. auto industry as a leader in fuel-efficient vehicles worldwide. Through LPO’s ATVM program, Ford retooled and modernized factories in the United States, which created and preserved manufacturing jobs for more than 33,000 Ford employees.

We bring up the auto sector because it looks like the midwest manufacturing states will once again be front and center in the upcoming presidential contest now that primary season has gotten through with them, so stay tuned.

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Photo via Naval Submarine Base New London (via Facebook).

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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