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November 23, 2014

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Potential for renewable energy soaring at Nellis Air Force Base

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AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

President Barack Obama looks at solar panels at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada in 2009. The Air Force announced recently that it has signed a lease to build a second solar facility at Nellis, this time a 19-megawatt plant.

Nellis Air Force Base is poised to produce more renewable energy than any other Air Force installation in the country once its second solar power plant is built.

The Air Force, in tandem with NV Energy and SunPower, a California solar panel maker, recently announced a plan to install a 19-megawatt solar plant at Nellis, which will allow the base to get close to half its energy from renewable sources. Air Force officials estimate the new plant will offset almost 27,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

The project will more than double solar energy produced. Currently, the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, which draws a portion of its power from landfill gas, is the Air Force’s renewable energy leader.

“Nellis base leadership and energy teams have worked very hard — they’re very passionate about producing renewable energy opportunities,” said David Bek, director of the energy directorate at the Air Force Facility Energy Center. “They are seizing great energy opportunities due to the location and the climate.”

The base is in a good spot for solar power, given the desert’s sunshine, the amount of vacant land near Nellis and state incentivization of renewable energy.

Nellis has been recognized for leadership in solar energy before. When the base installed its 14-megawatt solar power plant in 2007, it was the largest photovoltaic array in the country. Now, that title is held by the 290-megawatt Agua Caliente Solar Project in Arizona.

Together, Nellis’ two solar power plants could generate 42 percent of the power needed to run the base. That could help the Defense Department meet its goal of satisfying 25 percent of its energy needs with renewable sources by 2025.

Nellis gets more from the new plant than environmental bragging rights, too. NV Energy, which will own the plant, won’t increase Nellis’ utility rate and will provide a secondary substation and transmission line on the base.

“From the Air Force’s standpoint, we move forward with renewable energy projects only if it makes good business sense to us,” Bek said.

NV Energy also stands to gain since the power company’s involvement will help fulfill the goals of a state-imposed mandate on development of renewable energy. The requirement is part of a bill that requires the state to shift away from coal-fired power plants.

Groundbreaking is pending approval of a contract between the Air Force and NV Energy by the state Public Utilities Commission. NV Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Schuricht said the commission has 180 days to review and make a decision on the overall plan. It was submitted May 1.

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