Air Force Switches on Largest Solar Power Plant

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada, December 26, 2007 (ENS) – North America’s largest solar photovoltaic system is now up and generating power at Nellis Air Force Base in the sunny desert of southern Nevada.

The $100 million solar power plant at Nellis will supply about 25 percent of the total power used at the base, where 12,000 people live and work.

The 14 megawatt photovoltaic array will generate more than 30 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. Completed earlier this month, it was inaugurated with a ceremony at Nellis on December 17.

“Nellis, the ‘Home of the Fighter Pilot,’ is now home to the largest solar electric power plant in all of North America,” said Colonel Michael Bartley, Nellis Air Force Base commander.

“The project also provides a future test bed for the Department of Defense to assess the benefits of similar arrangements on installations across the United States,” he said.

Using power generated by the solar array is expected to bring about $1 million in cost savings annually, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 24,000 tons each year.

The solar power array is a joint endeavor that combines technology and systems expertise from SunPower Corporation and financing by MMA Renewable Ventures with discounted purchase commitments by the U.S. Air Force and Nevada Power.

SunPower designed and built the photovoltaic power plant using its proprietary single-axis solar tracking system which follows the sun throughout the day and delivers “up to 30 percent more energy than traditional fixed-tilt ground systems,” the company says.

MMA Renewable Ventures, LLC has financed and will operate the solar power plant, selling electricity to Nellis Air Force Base at a guaranteed fixed rate for the next 20 years.

MMA closed a fund for the system earlier this year with financing commitments from Citi, Allstate, and John Hancock Financial Services, and Merrill Lynch providing construction financing.

Nevada Power will support the project by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits generated by the solar array.

“This solar project at Nellis is a first step of many toward making renewable electricity integral to the operations of the U.S. Air Force,” said Air Force Assistant Secretary William Anderson at the inauguration ceremony.

The solar power array at Nellis
Air Force Base (Photo courtesy
U.S. Air Force)

“As the largest consumer of energy in the federal government, the Air Force is well-positioned to promote both solar technology and new approaches to its implementation,” said Anderson.

“The best way to secure a healthy and prosperous economy is to develop our affordable, reliable local resources,” said Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons, who flipped a switch marking full operation of the system.

“With these 14 megawatts, Nellis Air Force Base is leading the country in solar energy deployment, a move that is good for the environment and our nation’s energy security alike,” he said.

Covering 140 acres of land at the western edge of the Nellis base, the photovoltaic system is made up of 72,000 solar panels.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada congratulated the Air Force, saying, “Nevada and the United States have the technology and natural resources to serve our growing power demand with clean, renewable energy.”

“Solar power is the fastest growing energy resource to help meet our escalating power demand, generating reliable, affordable power without creating emissions or waste,” said SunPower CEO Tom Werner. “We are proud that SunPower was selected by the Air Force to design, supply, and build this hallmark project.”

“Working with partners, such as Nellis Air Force Base, to develop and generate solar energy projects is part of our strategy of providing clean, safe, reliable electricity to our customers at reasonable and predictable prices,” said

“Now that the Nellis solar energy system is on-line, the state of Nevada will be number one in the United States in solar generation per capita,” said Michael Yackira, chief executive officer of Sierra Pacific Resources, parent company of Nevada Power, which plans to expand its investments in renewable energy.

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