SunPower, Navy Hook Up In The Desert

Two trends – the embrace of renewables by the U.S. military and the growth of large solar installations in the desert Southwest – will come together over the next year in California. There, at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, SunPower will build a 13.78-megawatt (MW) solar plant that will generate the equivalent of more than 30 percent of China Lake’s annual energy load, according to the company. The plant is about 70 miles north, as the crow flies, from Edwards Air Force Base, where three 1-megawatt (MW) solar plants are under construction.

This is a SunPower project from soup to nuts: The San Jose, Calif.-based company said it had already begun designing the system, and will also build, operate and maintain it. Although going in on base land, the Navy won’t own the plant; instead, SunPower said, an affiliate of Metropolitan Life, the insurance company, will own the plant and lease it to a SunPower affiliate. The Navy will then buy the electricity “at a rate that is currently below the retail utility rate,” SunPower said, providing it “with a long-term hedge against rising power prices with no initial capital investment.” By going with a  20-year power-purchase agreement – a first for a military project, SunPower said – the Navy will get the  electricity “at up to 30 percent below the rate available through the more traditional 10-year PPA.”

Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, SunPower

image via SunPower

SunPower said the China Lake system will use its Oasis Power Plant product, which integrates the SunPower T0 Tracker (pictured above) with the SunPower E19/425 Solar Panel.

SunPower didn’t give the value of the deal, but in a Sept. 30 announcement of new military contracts, the Department of Defense said the company would receive just slightly more than $100 million for its work over the 20-year life of the contract. This isn’t the first big deal with the military for SunPower; last year we reported on its 6-MW project at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, and the company said it has done installations at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, Pearl Harbor, Ft. Dix in New Jersey, and Coronado Island in California.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.