The largest solar power plant in North America will soon be providing electricity to an Air Force base in the Nevada desert.
The military says the plant, scheduled to power up at Nellis Air Force Base by the end of the year, shows that solar energy can effectively meet part of the country's energy needs. Despite three decades of development of the technology, solar energy is expensive, requires large amounts of space and taxpayer subsidies, and doesn't work at night or on overcast days.
Nellis, which is outside Las Vegas, is devoting 140 acres to a massive photovoltaic array with panels of silicon wafers that will rotate to follow the sun across the sky and generate electricity.
The plant will be capable of producing 15 megawatts of power, enough to provide 30% of the electric needs on the base, where 12,000 people work and 7,215 people live, Nellis officials say.
The Air Force expects to save $1 million a year in lower electric bills and to use the plant to demonstrate it is boldly advancing the use of renewable energy technology, a commitment of the Bush administration, Ohlemacher says. The Air Force will pay none of the construction costs. Instead, private investors will pay the more than $100 million projected capital cost, anticipating a steady flow of revenue from the Air Force for the electricity and substantial federal tax subsidies.
The project is being built in a complex arrangement between the Air Force and three financial partners:
•SunPower Corp. and its PowerLight subsidiary, California-based solar specialists that will construct the plant.
•MMA Renewable Ventures, a San Francisco company that will attract institutional investors to finance the project and own and operate the plant on land leased by the Air Force.
•Nevada Power, the local power provider, which will indirectly subsidize the Air Force's lower rates through payments to MMA Renewable Ventures.
MMA Renewable Ventures and its investors will take advantage of a 30% federal tax credit that Congress passed in 2005 and expires at the end of this year. Solar advocates are asking Congress for a 10-year extension as a way to keep solar electric economically viable. Investors also can take advantage of accelerated depreciation schedules for solar, an additional tax break, Tomlinson notes.
MMA and its investors will sell solar energy credits generated by the project to Nevada Power. The utility plans to use those credits toward meeting Nevada requirements that it obtain 20% of its power from renewable energy sources by 2015, says Tom Fair, Nevada Power executive for renewable energy. "Our goal is to bring more renewables into the system," Fair says.
This is one of the most encouraging things I've ever heard about the US Militaries commitment to renewable energy. The only thing I don't like is that the Air Force is not investing its own money into the project. Based off my calculations instead of saving 1 million dollars a year, the air force could be saving 5 to 10 million dollars a year. That would mean payback on the cost of the system would be 10 to 2o years. And they would be actually be saving extra money not going into recouping the cost of the solar program after ten to twenty years. Just think of what they could do with all that extra money! Either way saving money is great if its 10 or 1 million dollars. And with those savings I woulnd't be suprised if they built a solar carport. I'm projecting an increase in commercial solar cell effiency from 22 percent or so to around 30 % in 8 or ten years. With 8 or ten million dollars saved up, coupled with government funding they could build a pretty huge solar carport. The one in San Diego generates around 1.25 megawats a year. And thats only for 446 cars. Just think of what they could do for Nellis Air Force Bases parking lot. They could probably save around a millon dollars a year. And I even had an idea for if they did pay upfront costs. Assuming they saved an average of 8 million dollars a year and put half of that to building a solar car port in ten years they could build a solar carport for the whole base and upgrade the buildings energy effiency. Another interesting possibilty for this base would be geothermal energy or heating. For gosh sakes its in the desert! Another thing that might help is a small wind turbine farm.