Leaders from D-M and the local community attended the 60th Solar 101, held at the Murphy-Wilmot Branch Library on Feb. 19.
Prominent figures in the Tucson community that attended the event included Congressman Ron Barber, U.S. Air Force Col. Kevin Blanchard, 355th Fighter Wing commander, and Col. Greg Williams, 355th Mission Support Group commander.
Solar 101 is a community education series on solar energy. The 60th Solar 101 allowed members of the Tucson community, including University of Arizona students and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base personnel, to take a closer look at the innovations D-M and the Soaring Heights community have taken in using renewable energy. It also addressed benefits of using renewable energy sources.
“There are about 16,000 solar jobs in Arizona now,” Barber said. “Also, we have seen the extension of the renewable tax credit that we can take on our federal income tax, if we install renewable energy in our homes.”
Barber also spoke about the cost of renewable energy, which has always been an issue when dealing with renewable energy sources. Renewable energy sources have not always been competitive, but in 2007 that began to change.
“Since 2007, the price of solar energy has dropped over 50 percent and is still going down,” Barber said. “There is some research that is going on at the University of Arizona that, I believe, is not only going to improve the price point, but perhaps get it down below other current energy sources.”
Though Barber was very positive about the solar energy initiatives taking place in Arizona, all efforts are not going towards the advancement of those initiatives.
“The Arizona Corporation Commission, which is an elected body of five people that regulate utilities in our state, has eliminated some of the financial incentives for rooftop solar and commercial solar,” Barber said. “These actions have the potential to roll back what progress we have made over the last several years.”
Barber has encouraged those who believe in renewable energy in Arizona to let the commission know how they feel about these actions.
“It’s not the time to put on the brakes,” Barber said. “Even in spite of that possible setback, there has been great progress made.”
Colonel Blanchard spoke briefly about the solar energy plans that D-M has already implemented as well as how the base approaches new plans.
“In our partnership with our contractor who runs our housing community, Soaring Heights, as well as with our civil engineering squadron, we have made great gains and are about to make even greater ones on the solar renewable energy initiative,” Blanchard said. “For every project we look at on D-M, in terms of a new building or new housing project, we look at long-term sustainment to lower costs.”
Blanchard explained that there may be more upfront costs with installing solar arrays and insulation in buildings to make them more energy efficient, but the long-term effect will help to lower costs. In 2012, D-M decreased their electricity bill by more than $450,000, compared to 2011.
“A lot of that decrease is due to the solar energy initiatives and also the conservation initiatives with better insulation and better design of buildings as well as reducing energy used per square footage based on needs,” Blanchard said.
These reductions do not solely belong to D-M. The Air Force has had a 16 percent reduction in energy use per square foot since 2003. Renewable energy resources account for six percent of the power the Air Force uses.
Greg Noble, 355th Civil Engineer Squadron energy manager, explained how D-M contributes to that reduction through its use of solar arrays and absorption chillers in the cooling of buildings, which is one of D-M’s main energy demands, on days when energy demands are reduced.
“We can use solar power, energize the electric chillers, build ice and then use the ice during the work week when our demands are very high and expensive,” Noble said. “From that standpoint, it gives us tremendous flexibility at what you can do with that solar power.”
Though solar arrays can catch only about 30 percent of the solar energy that hits their panels, D-M and Soaring Heights are looking for ways to store solar energy that is not being used. The technology to do so is not available, but maybe one day it will be.