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Air Force base in Nevada goes solar with 14-megawatt array

On 140 acres of Nevada desert, 70,000 mounted solar panels will make up the biggest solar installation in the States, according to the Air Force and SunPower.

Correction: Spokespeople from SunPower and MMA Renewables said the size of the installation at Nellis Air Force base has been revised to 14.2 megawatts, not 15 megawatts as the Air Force and those companies originally said.

Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, the land of lots of sun and plenty of land, will be home to a 70,000 solar-panel installation which, at 14 megawatts, will be the largest in North America.

The U.S. Air Force on Tuesday said Nellis and SunPower have finished the first phase of the project, which will save the base $1 million a year and roughly $83,000 a month, when fully commissioned.

Nellis Air Force Base solar panels U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Nadine Y. Barclay

The project, started in July of this year, will bring the final two-thirds of the panels online in the next two months.

The SunPower solar panels will be installed on 140 acres of Nellis Air Force base land and use trackers that move the mounted panels to follow the sun during the course of the day. The trackers improve output by 30 percent.

A different view of Nellis' SunPower panels U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Larry E. Reid Jr.

The 15-megawatt installation will be one of the biggest solar farms in the world. The Bavaria Solar Park in Germany is a 10-megawatt plant, and the Serpa Power Plant in Portugal is 11 megawatts.

But those solar parks act as power plants, whereas the Nellis installation will power only the base, which employs between 12,000 and 14,000 people, according to a representative. By comparison, Hewlett-Packard installed a relatively large corporate solar array in its San Diego facility last month that can generate 1 megawatt of electricity.

Under the contract, the base will pay a less expensive rate for electricity over the life of the panels, which typically have a 25-year warranty.

Update: The deal is financed by MMA Renewables, which includes equity investments from Citi and Allstate and debt provided by John Hancock Financial Services.

It is a purchase power agreement, or PPA, where Nellis will purchase electricity that the panels generate at fixed rates. The panels themselves are owned by the financiers.

In a release from April of this year, Nellis said that the installation will supply over 25 percent of the power used at the base.