Edwards Air Force Base in southern California is home to the Air Force Test Center, Air Force Test Pilot School, and NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. It is the Air Force Materiel Command’s center for conducting and supporting research and development of flight, as well as testing and evaluating aerospace systems from concept to combat. It also hosts many test activities conducted by America’s commercial aerospace industry.
Its history as an Air Force installation began in 1932 when General Hap Arnold began acquiring land adjacent to Muroc Field for a place to practice bombing runs. During World War II, development of fighter planes was shifted there to prevent prying eyes from learning about America’s newest attack aircraft. Over the years, it has played a role in several historic aviation events, including Chuck Yeager’s flight that broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1, test flights of the North American X-15, the first landings of the Space Shuttle, and the 1986 around the world flight of the Rutan Voyager.
The new 464 MW solar array, which includes 3,287 MWh of battery storage, went live on February 2. It is part of a larger $2 billion development called the Edwards Sanborn Solar Storage Project. According to a press release, it is the largest ground mounted solar array project constructed on any Air Force installation. Other installations are located at Luke AFB in Arizona Eglin AFB in Florida, and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.
The Air Force Civil Engineer Center, a primary subordinate unit of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, worked with Edwards AFB to solicit lease proposals for the underutilized parcel of land on the northwest corner of the base using the Air Force enhanced use lease program.
“Through the program, Air Force installations can lease non-excess, underused land to private sector developers in return for rent or in-kind consideration subject to approval by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations,” said Jeffrey Domm, Director for AFCEC’s Installations Directorate.
The Air Force and Terra-Gen, a southern California renewable energy company, signed a 35-year EUL agreement in November 2018. Tera-Gen planned and developed the leased land and constructed the solar energy project. Not only will the installation help lower carbon emissions from the base, the Air Force could potentially earn up to $75.8 million throughout the lease period, said EUL Asset Manager David Mairs.
It Isn’t Easy Going Green
To those of us who think, “Why doesn’t the military do more projects like this?,” a partial answer is there’s a lot of work involved to make something like this happen. The new solar energy installation required AFCEC to address more than 120 mitigation issues throughout the project in close collaboration with Terra-Gen, the 412th Civil Engineer Group at Edwards AFB, and AFIMSC’s Detachment 6 at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio.
AFCEC and base officials also worked closely with other stakeholders with vested interests, including the 412th Test Wing at Edwards AFB, federal, state, county, and local agencies, as well as the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and the Tejon Tribe. Working with the tribes and the California State Historic Preservation Office ensured the protection and preservation of the Native American cultural sites on the land.
“Only in America can we take barren land, embrace the power of the sun, and create an engineering marvel,” said Brig. Gen. William Kale, Air Force Civil Engineer Center commander. “So, take the time to reflect, see the great work that was done, and understand the significance of this project and what it can lead to. Hopefully, this is just the spark.”
The new solar power plant is part of a larger $2 billion development called the Edwards Sanborn Solar Storage Project. In addition to the 2,600 acres of land leased for the Edwards Solar EUL project, the Edwards Sanborn Solar Storage Project includes another 2,000 acres of private land. According to Air Force and Terra-Gen sources, both areas together will generate enough energy to power more than 164,000 homes and displace more than 320,000 tons of carbon emissions annually.
“The Edwards Sanborn solar project will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and provide renewable, cleaner energy that will ultimately protect the earth for future generations,” said Shari Fort, the Air Force Materiel Command National Environmental Policy Act liaison assigned to AFIMSC’s Detachment 6, who supported compliance with National Environmental Policy Act.
Dudek Engineering was deeply involved in the planning, permitting, and compliance phases of the project. The company says it provided biologists, archaeologists, and technical experts who prepared technical studies including pre-construction desert tortoise clearance surveys and an environmental impact review. Compliance experts monitored construction activities of more than 700 personnel to ensure compliance with federal, state, and local permit requirements. And you thought this stuff was easy!
The Edwards Sanborn Project
The solar power plant for Edwards Air Force Base is the first phase of the larger Edwards Sanborn project, which is expected to be the largest solar energy park in the world once completed. According to NS Energy, the project site occupies 6,000 acres of land — some of it leased from Edwards Air Force Base and some located on private land located adjacent to the base. The Edwards Sanborn solar and energy storage project will feature approximately 2.5 million photovoltaic modules and more than 110,000 lithium ion batteries.
The project also involves the construction of service roads, underground and above ground transmission lines, a converter station, an electrical substation, transmission lines, and facilities for operations and maintenance. The electricity generated from the Edwards Sanborn solar energy and battery energy storage project will be transmitted via a 220 kV power transmission line to the Sunward switchyard interconnection with Southern California Edison’s transmission grid.
The Edwards Sanborn project will supply 24 MW of solar energy and 5.5 MWh of battery energy storage capacity to Starbucks pursuant to a power purchase agreement facilitated by LevelTen. The project has a 15-year contract with Clean Power Alliance to deliver 100 MW of clean energy storage capacity.
Here are some of the companies behind the scenes who are helping to bring this project to fruition. Mortenson was awarded the engineering, procurement, and construction contract by Terra-Gen. That contract covers both the solar and energy storage sections of the project.
Trimark Associates was subcontracted by Terra-Gen and Mortenson to deliver the supervisory control and data acquisition system for the project in February 2021. The subcontract also includes meteorological stations, networking equipment, and a dynamic loss compensation system to meet power purchase agreement requirements.
Electrical Consultants were subcontracted by Trimark to deliver complex revenue metering, consisting of California Independent System Operator (CAISO-compliant) revenue meters. Solas Energy Consulting was contracted to deliver construction and project management services. The company was also the construction bid management service provider during the development phase of the project.
That’s a whole host of people working to bring clean renewable energy to Edwards AFB and southern California.