Largest solar panel farm in Utah commissioned at Hill Air Force Base

  • Published
  • By Lee Anne Hensley
  • 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The largest photovoltaic array solar panel farm in Utah was commissioned at Hill Air Force Base during a ceremony June 25.

"Currently the peak load of this system ... is 220 kilowatts," said Harry Briesmaster, 75th Civil Engineering Group director, during the commissioning ceremony. "That is enough energy and power to support 25 homes for a year. By tying this generation directly into the base electrical grid system, this renewable source power is made available to all of our tenants on this installation as well."

The power generated by the solar panels is fed into the installation's power grid to offset the energy used by Rocky Mountain Power, the normal supplier of electricity for the base.

The current size of the solar panel farm is 22 total arrays, with each array consisting of 48 panels, and more solar panels awaiting installation. Mr. Briesmaster said the site was chosen to allow for future expansion of up to one megawatt of production, as additional funding becomes available to Hill AFB.

The solar energy project began approximately two years ago, according to the senior project manager, Joe Price, of Ameresco, an independent energy solutions company. The company began its partnership with Hill AFB before then, however, to assist the installation with energy independence options.

"Six years ago ... Ameresco was selected to begin working with the energy experts here at (Hill Air Force Base) and became a partner in the energy program," Mr. Price said. "Since that time, we have commissioned three or four renewable energy projects."

Construction of the arrays took six months and according to Mike White of Gardner Engineering, a certified solar photovoltaic installation company, "We had good schedule management with Ameresco, so we finished on time and on budget."

Dave Abbott, 75th Civil Engineering Squadron utility manager, said the project was awarded through the Department of Energy performance-based contract to provide the base with "inexpensive, reliable and renewable energy, while providing a guaranteed supply of electricity from a renewable energy source utilizing energy harnessed from the sun.

"In its own small way, the photocells help contribute to the Hill Air Force Base energy portfolio and assist us in exceeding the renewable energy requirements set forth in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007," he said.

The concept of energy independence was central to Col. Patrick Higby, 75th Air Base Wing commander. "If we get threatened outside of our fence, for example, even though it is just a small percentage of our total energy portfolio, right here is 25 homes worth of energy that nobody can really affect from off base. This was just one project among many to foster renewable energy at Hill Air Force Base."

The commander reiterated the installation leadership's interest in pursuing more options for energy independence.

"Lots of other projects are still ongoing and there is a very high potential of expansion in the future," the colonel said. "Again, we will continue to seek opportunities like this and partner with industry and make the right and prudent choices for Hill Air Force Base, not only from an environmental perspective but also from an energy security perspective."

The solar panels, manufactured by BP Solar, are insured by Ameresco for the next 20 years, as part of the 75th CEG's contracting effort with them, Mr. Briesmaster said.