AFA breaks ground on 6-megawatt solar array
By John Van Winkle, U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
/ Published November 02, 2010
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Academy broke ground for its latest and most ambitious solar energy project Monday.
The 6-megawatt solar array will occupy 30 acres on the Academy's southeast corner adjacent to Interstate 25 when it is completed in summer 2011.
The solar array is the result of a partnership between the Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs Utilities and SunPower, which is based in San Jose, Calif.
"It will cut our power from burning fossil fuels by 11 percent and, by the way, save us a half million dollars a year," said Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, the Academy superintendent.
This $18.3-million project is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 as a result of government mandates for federal facilities to use increasing amounts of renewable energy.
Colorado Springs Utilities has contracted with SunPower to design, build, own, operate and maintain the plant. SunPower will sell the power generated at the plant to Colorado Springs Utilities for delivery to the Academy under a 25-year power purchase agreement.
"This solar power system will create local jobs, reduce the demand for fossil fuels, and improve air quality in our community," said CSU chief executive officer Jerry Forte. "We are confident that, with SunPower as our experienced solar provider, the Air Force Academy solar plant will be built to high quality standards and will meet forecast output over the 25-year life of the system."
The system will use high-efficiency SunPower solar panels with the SunPower Tracker system. The tracker follows the sun's movement during the day, increasing sunlight capture by up to 25 percent over conventional fixed-tilt systems while significantly reducing land use requirements. This technology has allowed the project to increase its top expected output, from when the stimulus dollars were allocated to the Academy, through the beginning of construction this week.
The 30-acre system will prove that solar power provides a secure, independent source of power in the United States, said Karen Butterfield, SunPower's director of federal accounts.
According to Environmental Protection Agency estimates, the system at the Air Force Academy will avoid more than 9,400 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year, the equivalent of removing 40,900 cars from Colorado's highways over 25 years.
Academy senior leaders joined representatives from the City of Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs Utilities and SunPower to turn the first ceremonial shovel-fuls of dirt.
Col. Rick LoCastro, the 10th Air Base Wing commander, said the solar array is part of a much larger energy vision.
"From the development of the Academy's first energy strategic plan in 2009 to our all-encompassing 'Falcon Green' environmental program to the amazing solar array that we break ground on today, I'm here to tell you, we're just getting started," he said.
This solar array is the latest step in the Air Force Academy's Net-Zero Initiative, which 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. Other Academy energy efforts include ongoing renovations, installation of solar panels on rooftops, the addition of hybrid and E-85 vehicles to the Academy's fleet and measures to reduce the base's overall energy use.
Monday's groundbreaking event was also powered by solar energy, with a little bit of sweat power thrown in. All electricity for the event was provided by a portable solar array on loan from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to the Academy's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Two instructors from the department set up the display, which provided 4 kilowatts of electricity to power the event.
Construction crews began large-scale operations Tuesday.