MILTON, Fla. (NNS) -- Naval Air Station Whiting Field marked another step on its path toward energy independence Nov. 29 with a ribbon-cutting for the air station's first large-scale photovoltaic power system.
Capt. Matthew Coughlin, base commanding officer, and Public Works Officer Lt. Cmdr. Jason Kranz were on hand to celebrate the occasion.
At the time of the ceremony, the power system was generating sufficient energy to reduce the host structure's energy consumption to "net zero" said Public Works representatives. This achievement represents a landmark event in the base's drive toward energy self-sufficiency.
"The goal is to reduce energy purchased, to increase our independence from outside sources," said Ensign Cory McLaughlin of Public Works.
The new solar array is designed to provide primary power to base building 2981, which houses Training Air Wing 5's fixed-wing Training Squadron 2 and Training Squadron 6. A duplicate of the solar array has been installed to service a similar facility containing two of the air station's three south field-based helicopter training squadrons.
The second system, which boasts even greater output potential than the north field generator, was activated in concert with the proceedings at the fixed-wing squadrons. Combined output of the two power plants would be sufficient to supply approximately 45 average American homes.
Kranz said the newly commissioned system was undergoing initial evaluation at half of its potential, and a second set of electric inverters is scheduled to double the output of the plant.
Beyond the operational certainty and security that the system affords the base, economic incentives loom on the near horizon. While reflecting on the peripheral advantages of on-site renewable power, Kranz was unequivocal about the immediate payoff.
"We look forward to saving money," Kranz said.
The self-contained power units can induce base's power consumption meters to "run backward" and further diminish energy expenses for the command. The net economic windfall is projected to approach $60,000 per year at current utility rates with the potential for greater gains if energy costs rise.
Both power plants are fully integrated with the air station's power grid. In the event that one solar array produces power in excess of the needs of its host building, the surplus can be channeled to other facilities on the base.
The base's newly activated solar generators are the culmination of a Navy-wide initiative to expand the energy independence of its stateside installations. The project has been funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
NAS Whiting Field has been a consistent leader in the early adoption and innovative application of alternative energy technologies.
The base has engaged solar energy units to meet a broad spectrum of operational requirements. Since 2009, the air station has installed solar powered parking and traffic lights as well as tested a solar-powered water heating plant at the former Wings Club facility.
Exploratory plans are underway to re-commission the solar heater, which is in storage, and expand the use of photo voltaic generators.
The Public Works Department is engaged with its local electric utility partner, Gulf Power, to evaluate the technical feasibility and economic benefits of a solar power farm aboard the air station.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus laid out five aggressive energy goals in October 2009 to improve energy security and efficiency, increase energy independence, and help lead the nation toward a clean energy economy. This initiative assists in achieving the energy goal of increasing alternative energy afloat and ashore where by 2020, the Department of the Navy (DON) will produce at least 50 percent of shore-based energy requirements from alternative sources and 50 percent of DON installations will be net-zero.