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Officials from Naval Air Station Pensacola, Whiting Field, and Eglin Air Force base were on hand yesterday to break ground on a landmark solar energy project.

The U.S. Navy and Air Force have partnered with Southern Company subsidiary Gulf Power to develop three large-scale solar electric generating facilities at the three Gulf Coast bases. A groundbreaking ceremony for the project was held Thursday at NAS Pensacola.

Combined, these facilities will have approximately 1.5 million solar panels that could generate as much as 157 megawatts (MW) of direct current or 120 MW of alternating current power. This translates to powering roughly 18,000 homes on a sunny day. The endeavor will be one of the largest solar energy projects east of the Mississippi River.

Groundbreaking CeremonyNAS Whiting Field Commanding Officer Capt. Todd Bahlau explains why the groundbreaking ceremony is an important event for the base and was a significant event for him.

Posted by NAS Whiting Field on Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The solar energy farms will be constructed at Navy Outlying Landing Field Saufley near NAS Pensacola (50 MW), Navy Outlying Landing Field Holley near NAS Whiting Field (40 MW), and at Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton Beach (30 MW).

Notable ground-breaking ceremony presenters and attendees included Dennis V. McGinn, assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment; Miranda A.A. Ballentine, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy; Capt. Keith Hoskins, commanding officer of Naval Air Station Pensacola; Capt. Todd A. Bahlau, commanding officer of Naval Air Station Whiting Field; Col. Matthew W. Higer, vice commander of the 96th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base; and Stan Connally, president and CEO of Gulf Power.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Energy, Installations & Environment Mr. Dennis McGinn spoke today at a groundbreaking ceremony at NAS Pensacola announcing solar projects at Saufley Field, Holley Field and Eglin Air Force Base.

Posted by NAVFAC on Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The solar initiatives at the three bases support the Department of the Defense’s and the Navy’s Renewable Energy Program Office’s (REPO) commitments to renewable energy and energy security.

Secretary McGinn said the collaboration between Gulf Power and the Department of the Navy to construct new solar facilities on Florida Navy installations will have a myriad of benefits. “Together, we can provide physical security to the assets, increase the regional grid resiliency and upgrade the energy infrastructure where our Sailors and aviators live and work, as well as stimulate economic activity through development,” said McGinn. “Energy, the economy, the environment and our national security are bound together; you cannot affect one without affecting the others, and these projects have positive benefits in all four dimensions,” he said.

Capt. Hoskins spoke of the secretary of the Navy’s REPO and the wide-spread goals of saving energy onboard NAS Pensacola and throughout the Navy, and how the agreement with Gulf Power also helps the local community in energy costs. “Two and a half years ago, my command staff and the NAS Pensacola Public Works leadership team, began to offer an energy vision to create a culture of energy conservation, reduce costs and detail a framework for planning and installing energy-efficient appliances in all of our new programs and infrastructure renovations that we have put in place,” he said. “Improving energy efficiency and increasing the use of alternative energy promotes more secure and more resilient mission onboard Naval Air Station Pensacola.”

Officials from NAS Pensacola, NAS Whiting Field, and Eglin Air Force Base break ground on new solar facilities in Northwest Florida. (Jay Cope/Special to the Pulse)

Officials from NAS Pensacola, NAS Whiting Field, and Eglin Air Force Base break ground on new solar facilities in Northwest Florida. (Jay Cope/Special to the Pulse)

Capt. Bahlau said of Whiting Field’s commitment to the agreement, “It is very rewarding to be part of this project, because not only does it help to ensure energy stability for the installations, but it also provides a significant new source of renewable, clean energy for our local area.”

Secretary Ballentine said this type of enhanced use lease highlights how public-private collaboration benefits the Air Force, industry and local communities. “The Air Force is focused on using these types of partnerships as a viable business model to improve the service’s energy resiliency and provide mission assurance through energy assurance,” she said. “Renewable energy projects like this are good for the nation because it increases grid diversity, improves resiliency, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.”

According to Gulf Power’s Connally, these solar projects help Gulf Power to further diversify its energy portfolio and support the mission to provide safe, affordable and reliable energy to its Northwest Florida customers. “This is an important collaboration between Gulf Power, the Navy, and Air Force,” said Connally. “Through careful planning, we’ve been able to work alongside our military partners to help support solutions for them to meet federal renewable energy and energy conservation mandates, while Gulf Power pursues cost-effective forms of renewable energy at the same time.”

Officials anticipate the solar facilities to be operational by December 2016.

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