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Soaking up the sun

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Solar power helps Fort Knox, environment

By Amber Coulter

Fort Knox has unveiled the installation’s latest green initiative.

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Officials hosted a ribbon cutting Wednesday morning for the largest solar array on a military installation east of the Mississippi River.

Maj. Gen. Jefforey Smith, commander of Cadet Command and Fort Knox, said the U.S. Army and Fort Knox are interested in reducing their carbon footprint and being more environmentally responsible, finding new ways every year to be greener and more efficient.

Such initiatives show humans can create solutions to the problems they know exist, he said.

“It’s a great day for Fort Knox, and I’m confident that it’s a great day for the state and for the Army,” he said.

The array’s 10,000 individual photovoltaic panels are expected to provide an average of 2.1 megawatts. That’s enough to power about 200 houses or a department store.

Fort Knox already produces 1.56 megawatts through solar panels on top of buildings throughout the installation.

Together, the new system and the existing one are expected to provide significant energy savings and independence. They can fulfill about 20 percent of the base’s energy needs on a low-demand day and about 10 percent on a high-demand day, Fort Knox Energy Manager R.J. Drydek said.

That coincides with an Army-wide mandate that at least 7.5 percent of installations’ energy be provided through clean methods by 2015, aiming for energy independence by 2030.

One reason for that goal is to make sure the installation is being environmentally conscious, Drydek said.

“I think it’s self-evident that we want to be better supporters of the land and users of the areas that we train in and return them back to where they were before we took use of them,” he said.

Another reason is the increased security and ability to function through various crisis and disasters, Drydek said.

“We have our own power,” he said. “We have our own water. We have our own natural gas, so we should be able to keep this area secure by being able to operate 100 percent without a problem.”

Col. Bruce Jenkins, Fort Knox garrison commander, estimates Fort Knox is about a year away from being self-sufficient in its energy needs.

The idea for the energy system came out of a two-year partnership between Fort Knox officials, Nolin RECC and Nolin subcontractor Earthwell Energy Management. The solar array was set up on 10-acres of cleared land over a four-month period.

Fort Knox is expected to pay less for the energy produced by the solar array, than the installation would for traditional energy.

The installation would own the panels after 25 years, allowing Fort Knox to use the energy produced at no cost. The panels are expected to last as long as 40 years and be low maintenance.

The new panels were paid for through money saved from the existing solar panels’ production of electricity.

The project cost was about $4 million, and the energy system is expected to save more money than that during the first 25 years of use, said Vince Heuser, vice president of system operations for Nolin RECC.

Amber Coulter can be reached at (270) 505-1746 or acoulter@thenewsenterprise.com.