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Shedding some light on the USAFA solar array

Posted 3/28/2011   Updated 3/28/2011 Email story   Print story


by Leslie Finstein
U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

3/28/2011 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Embracing the challenge of the future and the mandates of the Department of Defense, the United States Air Force Academy is committed to going green. One step in this process is the new solar array, a joint project between the Academy and Colorado Springs Utilities.

With the project nearing completion, here are some key facts, figures, and questions answered by 10th ABW Commander Col. Rick LoCastro, Russell Hume, mechanical engineer at the Academy, and Colorado Springs Utilities.

Separating Rumor from Fact

Q. What is that thing by the South Gate of the Academy? I heard it was a drive in Movie Theater or is it a vineyard?

. It is the USAFA Solar Array, a project that began in 2009. The 6 megawatt array will be fully operational by summer 2011. It is a joint venture between the US Air Force Academy and Colorado Springs Utilities. CSU is responsible for the construction, maintenance, and operation of the array. The Academy receives energy and cost savings from the array.

Q. Why by the south gate where everyone can see it?

. The location was chosen to maximize usage, the further from the foothills and mountains, the greater the power production. Also, the location minimized the amount of trees needing transplant and removal.

Q. How much does it cost? Where did the money come from? Are cadets losing out on other services to build this thing?

. The project costs $18.3 million. The funds came from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) received by the Air Force Academy in 2008. This project does not take away from the USAFA operating budget.

Q. Does this really save any money for USAFA? How long will it take to make the money spent on building it back?

. The Academy will save over $550,000 per year in utility costs at the current utility rates. In addition, the Academy also benefits from half of the sales of the Renewable Energy Certificates generated by the array. Estimated REC sales will garner an additional $775K per year in value for a guaranteed 25 years. Combining the two nets approx $1.325M per year--meaning a 13.8 year simple payback. The Academy's guaranteed contract and payback with Colorado Springs Utilities for 25 years (array actually has a life expectancy of 30 years) ensures this continuous payback/value.

Q. Does this have any benefits for the taxpayers and residents of Colorado Springs?

. By supplanting more costly energy sources with efficient clean power, the Academy lowers its own energy costs going into the future. That costs savings leads to a reduction in tax payer dollars needed to run the Academy. According to Academy mechanical engineer Russell Hume, it also avoids emissions of over 6,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year; keeping Colorado air clean and leading the way with USAFA's aggressive FALCON GREEN Energy program.

Q. Does this benefit the cadets?

A. The project, while saving energy and saving money also allows for the primary mission of the Academy to occur: Education. The lessons on the technologies, the contracting methods, etc. are all being passed on to the 4,400 Air Force Academy Cadets.

Q. Why build a solar array?

. It's the law. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires renewable energy equating to 5 percent of an installation's use until year 2012. It then jumps to 7.5 percent after year 2013. Executive Order 13423 requires installations to consume ≥ 50 percent of renewable energy from new renewable sources. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2010 requires installations produce or procure 25 percent of the total energy from renewable energy sources beginning in 2025 - we need to start now.

The Academy is embracing the challenges posed by energy legislation with a three-pronged approach known as FALCON GREEN. This program builds on a foundation of Conservation, Innovation and Education. Projects like the solar array have elements of all the foundational concepts. In addition, USAFA has its own net-zero goals to generate 100 percent of the electricity it needs via on-base renewable energy sources by the year 2015.

By the Numbers:

Number of Panels: 19,000

Array Size: 32.4 Acres of Panels 

Array Energy Output: 6 Mega Watts

Total Site Size (incl. roads): 43 Acres

Jobs Generated by Construction: 80

Avg. Academy Energy Bill/year: $5 million

Projected Savings: >$1+ million per year

For More Information:
CSU's Solar Site; www.usafasolar.com
Falcon Green: http://www.usafa.edu/10abw/falconGreenLinks.cfm

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