Stimulus bill funds Academy solar array

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Economic stimulus dollars go solar later this year, as part of a joint energy project between Colorado Springs Utilities and the Air Force Academy. 

The project is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- better known as the economic stimulus bill. 

The $787-billion bill was signed into law Feb. 17 by President Barack Obama. Among the Air Force portions of the bill is $1.095 billion for the purpose of improving, repairing and modernizing Air Force facilities, restoring and modernizing real properties, and investing in the energy efficiency of Air Force facilities. 

It's the energy efficiency investment portion of that legislation, which will bring $18.3 million to the Academy to fund a new energy contract between the Academy and Colorado Springs Utilities. 

"USAFA stimulus money will pay for solar power generated by Colorado Springs Utilities," said Russell Hume, 10th Civil Engineer Squadron. That money will allow Colorado Springs Utilities to build, own, operate and maintain the solar array on the Academy. 

This will be a modification to current formal energy agreements between the utility company and the Academy, in the form of an additional energy contract. That contract will purchase solar-generated electricity from 2010 through 2026. 

Construction of the solar array will begin later this year. 

It will be a fixed solar array on between 10 and 24 acres of Academy property, depending on the exact solar array system which is selected," said Col. Rob Fredell, chief scientist of the Academy. Potential sites are being evaluated by the Academy and Springs Utilities, and most of these sites are located on the eastern edge of Academy property to maximize the amount of sunlight available to power the solar array. 

Once complete, the solar array is expected to produce 7,500 megawatt hours per year. For the Academy, that equals about 7 percent of the Academy's total annual electrical energy needs. 

The Academy spent $5,184,768 on electricity in 2008, said Mr. Hume. So the addition of the stimulus bill-funded solar array will provide the Air Force a cost savings of more than $500,000 per year. 

The solar array is expected to generate its first kilowatt of electrical energy in late 2010.
For the Academy, this solar array is the first step in Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. John Regni's Net-Zero Initiative. That initiative sets a goal for the Academy to generate 100 percent of the electricity it needs via on-base renewable energy sources by the year 2015. This will be achieved by a multitude of means, including conservation, continuing to make Academy buildings more efficient as part of ongoing renovation efforts, use of alternative fuels, reducing overall electrical energy usage, and by tapping into the multiple alternative energy research efforts underway by faculty and cadets.