U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) yesterday joined members of the Ohio Air National Guard's 180th Fighter Wing in dedicating the fourth phase of the unit's massive solar energy field project, the largest of its kind at any Air National Guard base in America.
With the latest addition, guardsmen expect to get 1.2 megawatts - or 37 percent - of the military base's electrical needs generated by solar power, something that once seemed unfathomable for cloudy northwest Ohio.
The base is in western Lucas County, adjacent to Toledo Express Airport. Ten of its 140 acres are devoted to producing energy from renewable sources.
The base cannot install commercial-sized wind turbines because of Federal Aviation Administration rules for airports.
So the Ohio National Guard and the U.S. Department of Defense have invested heavily in solar, in part to help advance Miss Kaptur's post-9/11 desire of weaning military bases off foreign oil.
ing military bases off foreign oil.
Since the fall of 2007, guardsmen have installed more than 16,000 solar panels on 10 acres at a cost of $11.4 million at the 180th Fighter Wing's base. Much of the money has come from grants, plus federal stimulus funding.
In less than two years, the base has saved $140,000 in electricity, Col. Mark Bartman, 180th Fighter Wing commander, said.
He said it hopes to fill the remainder of the 10-acre site with more solar panels someday as well as create a carport of solar panels, and put solar panels on rooftops.
It is already phasing out gasoline-powered vehicles in favor of electric ones and those that operate on biodiesel fuel.Lt. Col. Bill Giezie, the base's civil engineer, said hydrogen power and geothermal heating and cooling are being investigated, too.
The base likely would remain connected to the region's electricity grid as a backup if it ever achieves its goal of producing all of the energy it uses.
Miss Kaptur, a member of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, has secured more than $9 million in energy improvements at area bases in recent years. She called the project "a model for our nation."
"This project surely is a showcase," Miss Kaptur said.
For the first three phases of the project, panels were implanted at 7-degree angles to capture maximum sunlight during the summer, the peak season for electrical use.
In the latest phase, panels have been implanted at 22-degree angles for all-season capture of sunlight. Making the latest phase even more remarkable is its use of nearly a dozen northwest Ohio vendors, Miss Kaptur said.
The panels are the thin-film variety manufactured by First Solar in Perrysburg Township.
Rudolph/Libbe Inc. of Walbridge is the general contractor.
The inverters for the fourth phase - devices that convert direct current from the sun into alternating-current power for the military base - were made by a start-up Toledo company called Nextronex. The base went with the Nextronex inverters because they are among the most efficient in harvesting light in cloudy conditions, officials said.
A sister field of solar panels is under way at Ottawa County's Camp Perry, a project undertaken by the 200th Red Horse squadron.
The two projects were spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Defense.
The University of Toledo's Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization has assisted with research and installation.