August 23, 2012

Large solar array planned for Davis-Monthan AFB

Jennifer Elmore
Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency Public Affairs

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) — The Air Force plans to expand its renewable energy portfolio substantially with a 14.5-megawatt photovoltaic solar array at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. The base 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. The project will provide 35 percent of the energy needed to power Davis-Monthan. It will be slightly larger than the Nellis AFB, Nev., photovoltaic solar array built in 2007.

According to Ken Gray, the Rates and Renewables Branch Chief at the Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency, Tyndall AFB, Fla., 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 Gray.

Purchasing RECs helps Tucson Electric Power meet state renewable portfolio standards and receive federal tax incentives. A REC is sold or traded as an environmental commodity. The REC owner is credited with purchasing renewable energy.

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 – not an easy task.

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.

“Getting this project through the developmental stage has highlighted to us areas where we need to improve our process of garnering approval and authority to do our renewable energy projects,” said Gray. “We think lessons learned during the development of this project will allow us to shorten execution time to six months.” Planning the Davis-Monthan solar array began in 2010.

The Air Force is also planning a six-megawatt solar array at Otis Air National Guard Base, Mass., and a 10-megawatt solar array at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. “We expect to have these awarded in FY13,” said Gray.

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