Solar Panel Project Providing Power to USAFA: Is it Worth the Price?

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It's hard to miss. An $18 million solar panel array sits on 30-plus acres of Air Force Academy property on the west side of I-25 on the northern part of Colorado Springs.

"Honestly, I don't really pay that much attention to it,” said Melissa Lichtenwalter. “I just drive past it."

To Melissa the array, paid for with Federal Stimulus dollars, is more noticeable at certain times of day.

"Every once in awhile there's a little bit of a blinding glare, but probably nothing as bad as the eastern sun in the morning," she said.

Others have louder complaints. An 11 News viewer commented at an $18.3 million price-tag, the solar panels are a waste of money.

"What we're getting from these is free power, so every taxpayer is not having to pay the government coffers to pay for us to power the Academy," said AFA engineer Russell Hume.

The panels that collect sunlight generate 6 megawatts, or more than 10 percent of the power it takes to run the Academy. The Academy began drawing electricity from the solar panels in March. According to Hume, that translates to a savings of more than $1 million a year in energy costs to the AFA.

Hume projects the project cost should be recovered within 13 years.

According to Hume SunPower, the builder, and part of a partnership behind this project has put a 25-year warranty on any of the equipment if it gets damaged. Colorado Springs Utilities, the third partner in the solar array project will collect a stipend from the AFA for general maintenance.

The solar array is part of an overall effort to make the Air Force Academy capable of generating all its power through on-base renewable energy.

“It’s nice to see that they’re using some re-usable energy,” Melissa said.