FORT BLISS, Texas - Feb. 26 was a clear and chilly day at Fort Bliss. Community members gathered to mark the beginning of solar electricity collection by SolarCity on Balfour Beatty Communities housing units. They partnered with Team Bliss leaders at a ribbon cutting ceremony at the La Noria housing area here.

Mason Crawford, a pumpkin farmer from Kentucky, presented an energy demonstration at Logan Elementary here on Feb. 25, as part of the two-day Net Zero awareness campaign.

He explained to the first-grade class that expendable energy sources like coal and oil can be replaced by renewable sources like wind power, water power or solar collection to achieve energy security and sustainability over the long term. The first graders quickly picked up the conservation tip to turn off appliances when not in use.

"It has been four years since we met with the Army here to talk about moving toward sustainable sources of energy," said Tabitha Crawford, senior vice president for sustainability and innovation with Balfour Beatty Investments.

Tabitha Crawford spoke about Solar energy to the first-grade class at Logan Elementary, and addressed the crowd at the ribbon cutting the next day.

"It has been four years since we met with the Army here to talk about moving toward sustainable sources of energy," said Tabitha Crawford.

The background planning to bring Fort Bliss residents to this point consisted of a partnership between the Army, BBC and SolarCity to finance, install, maintain and recycle at the end of 20 years the solar panels that began producing electricity in the La Noria neighborhood last month.

The project will grow to nearly 4,700 homes here and nearby White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The project will make Fort Bliss housing the largest community producer of solar energy built.

When completed, it is estimated that the system will produce 13.2 megawatts of power, 5.2 megawatts more than the largest system ever built.

Miss Abba Joplin, a 15-year-old resident of the Lower Logan community, spoke confidently about the innovations in energy by the inventor Thomas Edison more than 100 years ago.

"I also like to think he (Edison) believed in renewable energy and the need for it when he said, 'I'd put my money on the power of the sun and renewable energy. I hope we tackle that before coal and oil run out,'" quoted Joplin. "My family and I are proud to be a part of the largest solar powered community in the world."

Maj. Gen. Dana J. H. Pittard underscored the top three major goals at Fort Bliss, and the installation's commitment to become a Net Zero base by 2018.

"First we want to have the best trained soldiers anywhere in the Army," said Pittard. "Number two, is to have the highest quality of life for our soldiers and civilians who live and work here. And number three, is to be a Net Zero community."

The primary goal for energy use by the Army is for installations to become Net Zero in energy, water and waste. The Net Zero Strategy is the cornerstone of the Army strategy for sustainability and energy security.

SolarCity has the contract to install, monitor energy output, and maintain the 13.2-megawatt solar system that will produce up to 28 percent of current energy usage on Fort Bliss. The projection is for a 20-year wear out date on the solar panels.