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Fort Rucker's $25 million solar project now producing electricity

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FORT RUCKER – Appropriately, the unseasonably warm spring sun Thursday broiled 115,000 solar panels installed on post.

The panels absorbed the sunlight and converted it to electricity. On a sunny day such as Thursday, the panels can convert the sunlight into 10 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 1,000 homes. Officials with Fort Rucker, Alabama Power and the Army’s Office of Energy Initiatives gathered under the hot sun Thursday to cut the ribbon on the $25 million facility.

“This is a first step toward energy resiliency,” said Col. Shannon Miller, Fort Rucker Garrison Commander. “This exemplifies environmental stewardship in our community.”

The Fort Rucker array is one of two major military solar projects in Alabama. Officials will cut the ribbon on a similar project at the Anniston Army Depot on Friday. The project is a public/private partnership between the Department of Defense and Alabama Power. The Army’s goal is to derive 25 percent of the power at its installations from alternative sources of energy by 2025.

The array was installed and is operated by Alabama Power.

While energy efficiency is the primary goal of the Army’s effort, security is also a factor. Officials said future enhancements of the project include smart meters that will allow the operator to isolate the array and direct it to power the post in the event of an outage caused by terrorism or natural means.

The Fort Rucker array sits on 80 acres of undeveloped land on Andrews Avenue behind Lyster Army Health Clinic.

The energy created by the array will flow back into the grid for use not only at Fort Rucker, but by Alabama Power customers near the post.

How it Works

According to the project’s environmental assessment published last August, the solar Photovoltaic (PV) technology uses semiconducting material that converts light into an electric charge. This semiconducting material is usually composed of crystalline silicon wafers, either monocrystalline or polycrystalline, or thin film amorphous silicon.

When photovoltaic semiconducting materials are exposed to light, they absorb some of the sun’s energy in the form of photons and emit electrons in the form of electricity. The electricity produced is direct current (DC). The basic PV cell produces only a small amount of power. To produce more power, PV cells are wired in a series to form modules that can range in output from 10 to 300 watts.

PV modules are commonly installed in a rack to form a PV array. Arrays can be mounted at a fixed angle facing south or they can be mounted on a tracking system that follows the sun’s path to optimize and increase power production.

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