Post officials, along with representatives of Alabama Power Company and the Army's Office of Energy Initiatives came together to cut the ribbon on the new $25 million facility, and usher in a new age of renewable energy for Alabama and the nation.
"Today marks a significant milestone for Fort Rucker, as we are creating energy-source diversity resiliency, and exemplifying environmental stewardship in our community," said Col. Shannon T. Miller, Fort Rucker garrison commander. "This historic project … happened because the public and private sectors came together to create a better future not only for our community, but for our nation."
The 90-acre facility, which is essentially a solar power plant, is owned and operated by Alabama Power and uses more than 115,000 solar panels to convert the sun's energy into up to 10 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power about 1,600 homes a year -- putting Fort Rucker on track to meet the 25-percent alternative energy consumption goal set by the Army, and one step closer to the Army's goal of 1 gigawatt of renewable energy by 2025, said the garrison commander.
In addition to meeting the Army's overall goals, providing reliable, renewable energy gives Fort Rucker the ability to sustain its mission of supporting the warfighter. "One resource that doesn't immediately come to our minds when determining the needs for mission success in our Army is energy," said Miller. "The Department of Defense is the largest consumer of energy in the United States government and the majority of energy consumed in the Army is at the installation level.
"Energy generation reduces our dependence on petroleum, and it mitigates potential supply chain disruptions, so this 10-megawatt solar facility behind me is the first step towards energy resiliency, and enables us to continue our mission during long-term outages," she continued. "This commitment fosters that environmental sustainability for our present Alabamians, as well as our future generation. This gives us the ability here at Fort Rucker to train and develop our future Aviation warfighters in our Army."
That security is something that Michael McGhee, Army Office of Energy Initiatives executive director, said is the result of providing a diversity of power, such as solar, wind, natural gas, biofuel and geothermal.
"This solar energy project will assist in sustaining Fort Rucker's vital missions, and will increase assured access to resource supply and improve electrical infrastructure conditions," said McGhee. "Most importantly, this project will improve energy security and resiliency, which underwrite your Army's unique ability to rapidly deploy, employ and sustain military forces around the globe to defend our nation and its interests."
The electricity generated by the solar plant flows directly into the electrical grid, and is distributed back to Fort Rucker and the surrounding communities, but McGhee said the facility was built with future projects and capabilities in mind, including one that would install smart controls and electricity storage capabilities that would allow the ability to turn power on to the installation in the event of a grid disruption.
By staying on the cutting edge of energy generation, Fort Rucker is helping secure the future of not only the installation, but the surrounding communities, as well, said Miller. Additionally, the project helps the installation leave its mark in history with its commitment to being a good environmental steward.
"By producing and consuming 16 percent of all electrical needs through renewable energy sources, and continuing to implement innovative energy efficient solutions, Fort Rucker contributes to the reduction of the carbon footprint in the greater Wiregrass area and the community. This infrastructure is instrumental to the success and longevity of Fort Rucker," said the garrison commander. "Strengthening our infrastructure through the addition of renewable energy sources positions Fort Rucker, which is the largest employer in southern Alabama, for growth and continued economic support to our local community."