Academy launches one of largest solar projects in state

November 1, 2010

The Air Force Academy, which has pledged to obtain all its energy from renewable sources by 2015, will soon be home to one of the largest solar arrays in Colorado.

Top military brass, Mayor Lionel Rivera and others broke ground Monday on a 6-megawatt solar array system, which will span 30 acres along southbound Interstate 25.

Plans call for more than 19,000 solar panels designed to follow the sun to be mounted on the ground by April.

The high-efficiency panels will save the academy more than $500,000 a year and provide it with up to 15 percent of its energy needs.

“Since 1950, the Air Force Academy has produced some of our nation’s finest leaders, and today, it also becomes the site of a leading renewable energy technology,” Rivera said during the ceremonial groundbreaking near the south entrance of the academy.

The $18.3 million project, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will be designed, built, operated and maintained by California-based SunPower Corp. It was one of 22 companies that responded to a request to show their qualifications for the work. The qualified companies then submitted proposals for the work.

SunPower, the largest installer and supplier of solar panels in Colorado, will sell the power to Colorado Springs Utilities, which will deliver it to the academy under a 25-year agreement.

The agreement allows Utilities to buy the system in the tenth year or then at the end of the contract.

“We are embracing a vision of providing 20 percent of our energy by renewable resources by the year 2020, and this solar project is at the forefront of that effort,” said Bruce McCormick, Utilities’ chief energy services officer.

Col. Rick LoCastro, the base commander, called the groundbreaking historic.

“The solar array is part of a much larger energy plan and vision that we’re leading here at the Air Force Academy,” he said.

“From the development of the academy’s first energy strategic plan in 2009 to our all-encompassing ‘Falcon Green’ (environmental) program to the amazing solar array that we break ground on today, I’m here to tell you, we’re just getting started,” he said.

Jim Pape, president of SunPower, said the project is a boost to the larger solar industry because it’s location at the academy will lend the technology more credibility.

“Solar is still an emerging technology. It’s maturing, to be sure, and it’s not small by any stretch, but it is still a maturing technology,” he said. “The opportunity to place solar in visible sites with customers who people assume have done their due diligence is a huge boost to the industry.”

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