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Edwards Air Force Base harnessing the sun to bring more energy storage to the state

Posted at 10:20 PM, Feb 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-02 16:26:23-05

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (KERO) — Harnessing the sun to power a solar system. It sounds like something out of this world but in fact, it's happening at Edwards Air Force Base.

Now 4,600 acres are being utilized by solar panels to harness the bright desert sun shining over them. Simon Day, vice president and head of solar development at Terra-Gen, said the desert was ripe for the project.

“Where we are in Mojave is one of the sunniest places in the country,” he said. “So building solar here is a benefit for everyone.”

That bright sun is able to produce more solar energy at a lower cost than other locations like up north. This made the idea of building one the nation’s largest solar farms that much more appealing to Edwards Air Force Base.

“Strengthening the grid is a key element,” Day said. “When you have such a large amount of solar and storage in that area, the grid in this region gets stabilized and there’s less chance of blackouts and brownouts in that area.”

Day said the million-dollar project has already made a difference to Eastern Kern, bringing thousands of construction jobs over the last two years. Over its lease, the project is expected to bring $100 million in property tax revenue to the communities of Rosamond, Mojave and Lancaster.

“That’s one of the reasons why Edwards Air Force Base supported the project on its land,” Day said. Over the span of the 35 -year lease agreement, $75.8 million will go to the U.S. Air Force.

The project began two years ago with the construction of nearly 2 million solar panels. These panels can can produce 971 megawatts of energy storage and 807 megawatts of solar. In total, the solar farm can produce up to 1,300 megawatts of solar and energy storage.

“On September 5, that evening, California experienced one of the largest and strongest heat waves in its history. The California Independent System Operator, which operates the grid, was able to call on over 3,300 megawatts of energy storage at that time,” Day explained. “The Edward Sanborn Solar Project, it has 971 MW of energy storage itself so it’s going to for next year have a big contribution towards grid stability in the area.”

This project also built on miles of desert home to the endangered Joshua trees. While the project was approved before the species was officially given temporary endangered status, subsequent Environmental Impact Reports were required before construction could commence.

According the Department of Water Resources EIP findings, while several impacts were noted, any significant impacts were reduced to a “less-than significant level by mitigation measures.” The report stated that after reviewing the remaining impacts, the DWR found that “the remaining unavoidable impacts of the proposed project are an acceptable environmental cost in light of the environmental, economic, legal, social, technological and other benefits of the project.” Therefore a “take permit” was granted — allowing the removal of Joshua trees under a mitigation plan. Part of that plan included providing over $3 million in funding for further protection of Joshua trees.

Sanborn Solar EIR

The site for the project also included areas significant to the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and the Tejon Indian Tribe. Both were given stakeholder engagements in the projects.

“We worked with the tribes to avoid certain areas that were more culturally sensitive and important, and mitigate some of the areas that we would be needed to build in. So they were key stakeholders throughout the process,” said Day. “Kern County, and also the Air Force process for renewables and environmental was a key piece in terms of working through any of the important biological work or other cultural areas.”

Day said the project also brings the state closer to reaching its clean energy goals, helping offset fossil fuels in addition to providing energy during emergencies to avoid rolling blackouts and brownouts.

Edwards Air Force Base now on board alongside other communities like Tehachapi, which produces over 2,000 megawatts of wind energy through its wind farm. Day said that energy injects into the same substation and given that winds in the area pick up in generally in the evenings while solar produces energy throughout the day, the two projects compliment one another.