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15-megawatt solar project starts at Nellis Air Force Base

Overcast skies couldn’t keep the sun from shining on Tuesday’s groundbreaking event to launch construction of a 15-megawatt solar project at Nellis Air Force Base.

Sun rays beat through the low, gray cloud layer about a half hour before 99th Air Base Wing commander Col. Richard Boutwell took the podium next to some shovels and a lone photovoltaic panel on the bare, dirt-covered 102-acre site.

That’s where SunPower Corp. will build the $50 million Nellis Solar Array II that will be owned by NV Energy on land leased from the Air Force in the southwest part of the base. Combined with the first array SunPower built in 2007 — a 13.2-megawatt solar plant — the two will power base facilities exclusively on the sun’s renewable energy during daylight hours.

“This is a great day for Nellis Air Force Base,” Boutwell told the gathering of company officials and Air Force leaders. “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.”

He added that this project “also has a component that will increase our ability to fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace. … What this means to Nellis is that we will have power assurety, along with increased reliability and flexibility to support the largest and the most demanding advanced air combat training facility in the world.”

Pat Egan, NV Energy’s senior vice president of customer operations, said Nellis Solar Array II will be the 42nd renewable energy project in the company’s fleet.

“It’s a very important one to us,” Egan said. “We have nine solar projects. This will ultimately be our ninth but we have geothermal projects in the north, we have a wind project in the east, we have hydro projects, we even have biomass and landfill gas projects. Going forward, renewables will continue to be a larger part of our overall energy mix.”

Nam Nguyen, SunPower’s vice president of the company’s Americas Power Plant, said the beauty of using high-efficiency photovoltaic panels is that they are “pure renewable, clean, no emissions” and last beyond 25 years.

“By the time we get to year 25, it will degrade by some but not by much. So, it can keep on running until its end of life, which we anticipate to be beyond 35 or 40 years,” she said. “Should Nellis and NV Energy want to change its technology or add more capacity, we could always do that as well.”

Jared Friedman, NV Energy’s director of renewable energy strategy and development, said the silicon photovoltaic cells used in Nellis Solar Array II convert 20 percent of the sunlight that hits them into power.

According to a fact sheet about the project, when built by the end of this year the plant will offset the annual production of 27,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, or about the same greenhouse gas reduction you would get from removing 136,800 cars from Nevada’s roads during the next 25 years.

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