Nellis breaks ground on DOD’s largest solar array

  • Published
  • By Kevin Elliott
  • Air Force Civil Engineer Center Public Affairs
Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, hosted a groundbreaking ceremony March 24 for the newest Air Force solar array, a photovoltaic farm named Nellis II. The system, upon completion, will provide 19 megawatts of direct current capacity to the base, making it the largest photovoltaic system in the Department of Defense.

The project, a collaboration between Nellis AFB, Air Combat Command and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, will be the second industrial-scale array at Nellis AFB. The first, 14-megawatt Nellis I, was the largest photovoltaic system in the U.S. when it was energized in 2007.

"This is a great day for Nellis Air Force Base," said Col. Richard Boutwell, the 99th Air Base Wing commander. "When this solar array is online, combined with our first solar array, Nellis will be host to the largest solar photonics system in the Department of Defense."

Nellis II will be constructed by SunPower Corp. and owned and operated by NV Energy, the Nevada state utility. Under the 31-year lease agreement, NV Energy will sell energy produced by the array to the base at existing tariff rates. Nellis will purchase all the power it needs from the array and any additional energy produced by the system will then go to the outside grid for use by NV Energy's other customers.

"Nellis II is a great opportunity for us to partner with the Air Force base and at the same time benefit our other customers," said Stacey Kusters, the vice president of Renewable Energy and Origination at NV Energy. "Because the array is situated on the installation, Nellis gains an energy security component. And, because any extra electricity generated by the system will flow to the grid, the surrounding community benefits as well. So, what's good for Nellis is good for all our customers."

The project benefits Nellis AFB in other ways. As part of the land lease, NV Energy agreed to install an additional substation and transmission line to feed the installation. These in-kind considerations will further bolster energy security for and supply continuity to the base.

"The Air Force has to look at the total picture of where our energy needs will be decades down the road," said Dan Gerdes, the director of the AFCEC Rates and Renewables Division. "We have to make smart choices now to support that evolution. So, sometimes ancillary benefits are, for us, more valuable than a lower rate. We have to set ourselves up for follow-on projects, so we are always looking for where we can find second-order, non-monetary benefits."

Construction on Nellis II is expected to be complete by the end of 2015. To learn more about the Air Force renewable energy program, visit