By Janene Scully
Noozhawk North County Editor
Vandenberg Air Force Base has flipped the switch on a new solar array for harnessing the sun, ensuring the base can operate if traditional sources fail.
Approximately 64,000 solar panels sit on 188 acres along Timber Lane, once the site for the base’s East Housing Area, outside the main gate.
The 28-megawatt solar photovoltaic system is tied directly into Vandenberg’s power grid, providing what defense officials call “resilience.”
“That’s what this is about for us in the Air Force, is making sure we have resilient power to do our mission,” said Mark Correll, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for environment, safety and infrastructure. “And Vandenberg has been a leader in that all along.”
Through a mission-threat analysis, Vandenberg officials determined what it would take to complete its key chores in the event a natural disaster or something else interrupts traditional power supplies, he added.
“Power systems like this provide that kind of resilience,’ he said.
But it’s not just about resilience since cost also is a concern. The military also sought renewable power since it’s unaffected by supply chain problems that can interrupt coal or natural gas power plants.
“You can’t shut down the sun. You can’t shut down the wind. So things like this are really important to us,” Correll said.
In case of a power outage, the system automatically will disconnect and reconnect, safety measures to avoid damage, he said.
“This solar farm represents a partnership and ability for us to explore renewable and clean energy for the base,” said Col. Greg Wood, 30th Space Wing vice commander. “What you see around you is capable of providing one-third of all the power for this installation, which happens to be the third largest Air Force Base we have.”
During a ceremony April 10, officials participated in a ceremonial flipping of the switch, although the system actually became operational in early January.
“This is the largest solar array project in which all energy is produced and consumed by the Air Force,” said Frank Rechner, deputy director of supplier operations for the Defense Logistics Agency Energy.
The Vandenberg project is expected to lead to additional solar farms at other military installations, he said.
“In short, this is a growth industry for us at DLA Energy ,” he said. “We continue to be ready as a committed and excited partner in the effort to deliver resilient and affordable energy solutions to our military installations.”
SunPower served as the advisor, designer and installer of the Vandenberg project, according to David McIlhenny, vice president of project finance for the company. The system employs the firm’s most innovative technology, using facilities to maximize land use, he added.
“Solar’s magic. It’s amazing that this technology makes electricity from the sun,” McIlhenny said.
The base will purchase electricity under a 25-year agreement, providing Vandenberg with competitive, fixed electricity rates, officials said.
The Vandenberg site is one of two solar farms in Santa Barbara County.
First Solar touted the solar system as capable of providing enough electricity to serve 16,000 homes.