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Solar energy to power White Sands Missile Range's nuclear dreams

Posted on Monday, February 28th, 2011 at 3:25 pm by Solar Energy USA

White Sands Missile Range will be installing solar panels to help power installation facilities with the ultimate goal of making the range energy self-sufficient.

As part of an energy efficiency program, WSMR plans to begin the installation of solar panels to generate power on the installation, as well as installing electric motors, energy-saving lighting, and more effective heating and cooling systems, with the long term goal of establishing a modular nuclear power station on the range.

“Our goal is to become a net-zero installation by 2020, meaning we produce as much power as we use,” said Craig Collins, the energy manager for WSMR’s Directorate of Public Works.

The construction of alternate energy options on military installations is part of a larger army policy. By having all installations construct their own alternative energy plants, the Army hopes to not only reduce the environmental impact of military operations, but also reduce costs and increase military readiness. Power plants located on installations will allow the Army to no longer rely on civilian infrastructure, which could be disrupted in a disaster or attack, and any surplus energy generated on the installation could be sold back to the local communities, helping to cover the installation’s operating costs.

Under the Energy Saving Performance plan, contractors will install the energy saving devices around WSMR, as well as a set of solar panels in the parking lot of WSMR’s headquarters building. The panels are expected to generate enough electricity to power one of WSMR’s office buildings for an entire year. To address local concerns about reliability, panels will be hardened to survive some of WSMR’s harsh weather conditions.

“We always rate things like roof and windows, and the Directorate of Public Works requires that they are able to survive 100-mile-per-hour winds,” Collins said. Contractors constructing the system and refitting WSMR buildings are well-motivated to make the installation as efficient as possible, as it means more money in their pocket. Under the contract, a percentage of the savings generated by the conversion process will be paid back to the contractor that did the work. “The more they save on our utilities bill, the bigger their share is going to get,” Collins said.

While the solar panel installation and building refitting are expected to begin to take place later this year, long-term plans for WSMR include the construction of a power plant on the range, with nuclear power scoring high points among local leadership. Other options include more solar power options and wind. Nuclear is the preferred option, as solar requires a large amount of land to generate sufficient power, and windmills have been known to interfere with complex radar systems that are required for WSMR’s test mission. The modular reactors WSMR is looking into are self-contained units that would be buried and controlled from a nearby facility. Collins said that if multiple units are installed on WSMR and managed from one facility, it would be possible for one central Army operated power plant on WSMR to power the Range as well as Fort Bliss and Holloman Air Force Base.

While no official decision has been made at this time on the reactor, or other possible options, Collins said that WSMR is at the top of the list of installations under consideration for alternative energy options. “We are at the top because we have a low profile. We’re a relatively small installation and we have a lot of natural resources,” Collins said.