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World’s Largest Solar Array is Under Construction (15-18MW!)

LAS VEGAS–A groundbreaking took place at Nellis Air Force Base, just north of Las Vegas, Nevada, in the desolate, arid, windswept Mojave Desert. The ceremony will initiate construction on what will be the largest solar photovoltaic (PV) array in the United States, capable of producing 15-18 megawatts of power.

At least for a year or so, say Air Force officials, the plant will also constitute the largest such facility in the world, encompassing an investment of $100 million on 140 acres. The land will largely be covered by silicon wafers that will rotate each day to doggedly follow the sun across the sky

Expecting to eventually save $1 million a year on their electric bill, thanks to the new solar plant, base officials expressed pride at being able to demonstrate leadership in developing a significant on-base alternative. They said they expect the new plant to go online by the end of the year.

Though most of the energy generated will power the base, depending on time of day and usage, a small amount of the power generated by the facility may go off base to surrounding communities. However, the Nellis plant will produce electricity during the day–not after sundown. Lacking battery storage capacity, its power will constitute a useful supplement, not an impressive primary generating source, for the base’s own needs.

Some estimates suggest the plant may supply only 25 percent of the base’s needs. That figure has been listed elsewhere as 30 percent. Both figures are still impressive, considering 12,000 people work on the base and 7,215 live there.

But those percentages hardly inspire confidence that the plant will produce any spare solar-generated power for Southern Nevada’s high-growth communities-notably Las Vegas, directly south, and Mesquite, about 40 miles to the north-traditionally dependent on cheap, abundant electricity, not to mention adequate water supplies from adjacent Lake Mead (currently down 100 feet from normal).

So the new venture actually points up the foreboding limitations on solar electric power development-even in places that engineers deem “highly insolated” like the Mojave, whose clear, blue skies pretty much make it an optimal setting in which to undertake a larger PV project.

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