A ribbon-cutting ceremony June 9 at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, celebrated the completion of the final phase of Fort Campbell's 5 megawatt solar array.

"It's amazing to think how much Fort Campbell has changed over the last couple of years, and how much it'll continue to move forward," said Col. James "Rob" Salome, garrison commander. "It's a special time; it's important to Fort Campbell for us to try and move as much as we can toward sources like solar."

The two-phase project used two third-party financed contract vehicles. Phase one incorporated a Utility Energy Services Contract for a 1.9 megawatt array executed through a 10-year contract with Pennyrile Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation and a $3.1 million grant from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Phase two used a 27-year Renewable Energy Service Agreement (RESA) and an $800,000 grant provided by the Department of Energy's Federal Energy Management Program to install the remaining 3.1 megawatt array. The U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville's Energy Division manages the Utility Energy Services Contracting and Power Purchase Agreement programs.

Salome said when the solar array project started in 2012, the post was looking for ways to refine energy usage in an efficient way. Originally the plan was for the array to produce the equivalent of 3 percent of the post's energy usage.

"Well now with the work that we've all done to make this possible, it's going to represent 10 percent of our total [energy] utilization," he said. "That is really huge to us."

The 5 megawatt solar array is expected to annually produce enough renewable energy to power 463 homes.

Work on the solar array began in 2012 when the Fort Campbell Directorate of Public Works partnered with the Huntsville Center and the Department of Energy to put together a renewable energy plan for the post.

The array was expected to cost between $9-12 million, so the grant was a good jump start and made it significantly easier to find the rest of the funds.

"Through a Utility Energy Services Contract, we could actually fund a portion of the project … through a (third-party financed) mechanism," said Rick McCoy, Fort Campbell Business Operations Integration Division.

The UESC allowed them to complete phase one of the project in 2015, installing enough panels to produce 1.9 megawatts, with a 10-year payback.

Phase two was finally energized for a full 5 megawatts in April of this year. The array is expected to not only reduce the post's energy load on the power grid, it will also help save money.

"Power costs fluctuate based on when we use them," McCoy said. "The hottest day in July is when power's the most expensive. By some miracle that's when [the array] makes the most energy. When the sun's highest in the sky and you're burning up and your air conditioner is running like crazy. This [array] is making the most energy that it could possibly make.

"The bottom line is it is producing energy that's reducing the cost of Fort Campbell's electric bill," McCoy said. "It also reduces the stress on the local power grids in Clarksville and Hopkinsville."

The money saved on power consumption can be repurposed to fund training for Soldiers.

"We've got to do all we can to shave off spending in one direction to make sure the Soldier is well trained because we can't let him go out there and defend us without the best," McCoy said. "That's the way we all look at it. We have an obligation to the tax payer to spend the money wisely, but we also have an obligation to the Soldier to make sure that any scant resources that are available are spent as much in their favor as possible."

Though the solar array is completed on the Kentucky-side of post, McCoy is still hopeful that Fort Campbell can partner with Tennessee in order to build another 5 megawatts worth of panels.

"This is the beginning cause I know there's lots more things that we want to do and partner on in order to really make ourselves as energy independent as we can possibly be," Salome said.