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Academy hits switch on solar array

  • Published
  • By Don Branum
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Officials with the Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs Utilities and SunPower Corp. flipped a switch signifying the official dedication of the Academy's 6-megawatt solar array in a ceremony June 13.

Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michael C. Gould called the event significant because it demonstrates the partnership between the Academy and the local community to bring renewable energy to the Colorado Springs area.

"At the strategic level, a lot of us talk about getting serious about the renewable energy business," General Gould said. "We did it. This shows action and leadership at many levels. And it shows our 4,400 cadets -- the reason why we're all here -- what bold leadership is about and what making a commitment and taking action is all about."

The partnership to develop the array began at the federal level, with $18.3 million of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds set aside to build the facility. Colorado Springs Utilities won the contract, and SunPower oversaw the construction.

"The Air Force Academy is a treasure for Colorado Springs," said Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jeff Forte, a Colorado Springs native. "So to work on this project as partners is just tremendous for us."

The solar array fits into the Academy's objective to generate 100 percent of its electricity needs on base by 2020 as part of the Defense Department's Net Zero Energy Installation initiative.

It also helps the city of Colorado Springs move toward its goal of producing 20 percent of its energy through renewable sources by 2020, Mr. Forte said.

General Gould credited several officials with the 10th Air Base Wing and the contractors for their partnership in the solar-array project. He also credited Russ Hume, the Academy's energy czar, for his involvement.

"Russ, your leadership, your push and your drive has made all this happen," General Gould said.

Because the government paid the construction and maintenance costs up front, the Academy will receive the electricity at no cost throughout the facility's lifetime, Mr. Hume said. Moreover, the array will generate the most electricity during peak times of the day, when electricity is most expensive. This will save the Academy as much as $1 million per year over the course of the array's 25-year design lifetime.

Mr. Hume said the array constitutes about 11 percent of the Academy's overall electricity needs: about 12,000 megawatt-hours per year, or enough to power more than 1,200 average homes.

The facility has also presented opportunities for cadets and will continue to do so, Mr. Hume said.

"Cadets have been involved with this project from the beginning," he said. "They were involved with determining the most logical sites for placement of the array."

Cadets are also involved with researching improvements in photovoltaic technology and cyclical wave energy, Mr. Hume said.

General Gould said the solar array brings the Academy closer to its Net Zero goal, but much work still remains.

"We have to meet this Net Zero goal by 2020, and we're going to continue with the partnerships to make it all happen," he said.