U.S. Navy’s Largest Solar Project Going Up

SunPower broke ground this month on a big solar installation at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California. Though it’s not a utility scale system of the magnitude being developed elsewhere in the desert – like the 392-megawatt (MW) Ivanpah concentrating solar plant, for instance – at 13.78 MW it is large enough to hint at the kind of solar development the military would like to see take place on its bases in the California desert.

“This is the largest solar project in the Navy,” the assistant Navy secretary for Energy, Installation and Environment, Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, said in a statement. “It demonstrates tangible progress toward national energy independence and reaching the Department of the Navy’s energy goals.”

SunPower, China Lake, Navy

image via SunPower

You might recall our recent story about the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) study that promoted the concept of developing at least 50,000 acres at four Southern California military bases for solar power production. The study said the department could reap up to $100 million annually in lower power costs and rental-fee income with such a program. All told, the study said, some 7,000 megawatts could be mined in the desert by private developers using 6,777 acres at China Lake, 24,327 acres at Edwards Air Force Base, 18,728 acres at Fort Irwin and 553 acres at Twentynine Palms.

Whether that idea will fly, nobody knows – but meanwhile, DOD is making use of some of that prime land to produce emissions-free power and trim its utility bills on a more modest but still impressive scale. “The Navy has a longstanding record of identifying energy and water conservation opportunities across our facilities,” said Rear Adm. Dixon Smith, commander, Navy Region Southwest. “We are continuing to transform our culture from one of consumption to one focused on conservation.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.