FORT RILEY, Kan. -- The sun shone bright, providing the perfect cover for a ribbon cutting to celebrate the installation of solar panels on 117 homes in the Warner Peterson housing division.

The May 9 event marked the completion of the first step in a lengthy process to install solar panels on as many homes as possible on Fort Riley.

Corvias strategic advisor Beth Worthley said the project started when the Department of Defense set forth new energy goals.

"One of the goals, as part of the military housing solar challenge, is that 25 percent of energy consumption will come from renewable sources by the year 2025," she said. "Riley is far exceeding that with 37 percent coming from renewable sources."

Fort Riley and Kansas in general has the perfect landscape for solar. It's sunny with wide open space and little shading issues.

The Fort Riley Project

The construction started in the Warner Peterson division in February, but it was preceded by an extensive impact study.

"The due diligence work has been going on for a couple of years," Worthley said. "Onyx Renewables came out and did evaluations of each of our homes."

That evaluation included measuring the angle of the roof; checking the direction the house faces, with preference going to south-facing houses and what kind of shading it had. They also examined the structure of the home.

"We looked at the age of the roofs," she said. "It is a 25-year project, we want to make sure that we're not putting solar panels on a roof that needs to be replaced in the next few months. And if that is the case then we're going to try and replace the roof prior to the solar panels being put on them."

The plan is to have about 1,260 homes done by October 2018.

Work has already begun at McClellan and Forsyth housing.

Residents of the homes where the panels are not installed will not experience any difference than those that have them.

"During the construction there will be people on the rooftop, other than that there won't be an impact," she said.

Residents also won't see any changes in their own electric bills. Worthley said she had heard people were concerned that they would pay higher costs if their home did not qualify while their neighbor's house did.

"They won't be seeing a change in their utility bills," she said. "To make it equal for everyone we are aggregating on an installation level."

They will still pay the same basic allowance for housing, only some of it will go to Westar Energy and some of it will go to our solar provider so they won't see any material direct impact in a long run. The impact to the residents will be all of the savings goes back into the housing program.

When the Fort Riley project is completed, it will be the largest solar program in the state of Kansas as well as the largest solar program in Corvias portfolio.

"We are doing this at 10 installations across the county, but Riley's my favorite because It is making such a phenomenal impact," she said.

The dollars and cents

The project carried no expense to the Army, Fort Riley or DOD.
Worthley said Corvias worked with Onyx Renewable Partners, LLC to install solar panels at Fort Riley.

"They are the owners of the system, we provide the rooftops," she said. "The electricity is generated by the solar panels and the Fort Riley housing project pays for this electricity similarly to paying another utility company. One major benefit is that the amount paid is fixed and predictable, offering rate stability and energy security".

The rates are set for the first two years to be equal or less than the current utility company rates.
All funds that Corvias saves in their utilities go into the Fort Riley housing program for such projects as renovations, new homes, playground improvements and road improvements.

Solar Ready Vets

Another component to the solar initiative is the Solar Ready Vets program, which was started by the Department of Energy to provide active-duty service members who are near the end of their enlistment with an opportunity to train for careers in the solar industry.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy launched a pilot program to prepare veterans for careers in the solar energy. Although the pilot ended, Solar Ready Vets is now an independent program administered by participating military bases.
Power Factor, a subcontractor working on the Fort Riley solar project, hired 13 veterans, some of whom had been stationed at Fort Riley.