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Base clean-energy projects reflect president’s priorities includes Sopogy technology

February 5, 2012

Tony Davis Arizona Daily Star | Posted: Saturday, February 4, 2012 12:00 am

Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild tour Davis-Monthan Air Force Base's alternative-energy projects. Sutley was here on Friday

A smorgasbord of new clean energy projects at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base shows what’s needed to create an economy “built to last,” said a top White House environmental aide who visited them Friday.

Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley visited a solar-panel-topped basketball court, a device using dry cells to inject hydrogen into car engines and an energy-saving, ceramic-paint-topped building.

She quoted the Obama administration’s economic catchphrase as she proclaimed these test projects are examples that should be transferred to civilian life to build a clean-energy economy.

During the tour, base officials discussed plans to have the California-based Sun Edison utility build enough solar panels to boost the base’s solar capacity to 14.5 megawatts, or about 35 percent of the total power used there. The project starts construction in March and is slated to finish in May, officials said.

They added that the project will put the base above the national standard of 71.5 percent renewable energy sources for military facilities. The base has two solar-panel facilities providing about six megawatts of power to homes.

Sutley, touring with Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, saw:

• An array of Sopogy MicroCSP thermal energy collectors under construction that will chill water that in turn will cool an educational-and-recreational center for base kids. The cost wasn’t available.

• A ceramic-painted building with nontoxic paint that’s supposed to use 22 percent less energy due to the ceramic material’s insulating qualities. The paint costs about $80 per gallon. It was one of four projects under development that Sutley saw at the aging-aircraft maintenance facility known as the Boneyard.

• A microturbine generator that can run on relatively clean natural gas or propane, as opposed to dirtier diesel fuel. The generators cost $100,000 for a 65 kilowatt model and up to $1.7 million for a model generating one megawatt. The turbines power a small building and an air compressor used on pneumatic tools.

• A cooling device that uses a little less energy than a standard evaporative cooler and 80 percent less than an air conditioner. A 5-ton unit costs $5,000.

• Dry cell generators that use the power of alternators to generate hydrogen to use as auto fuels. They can provide up to 6 percent of a vehicle’s fuel requirements, and improve gasoline mileage by 15 to 20 percent, D-M officials said, for a $1,000-per-vehicle kit.

“It’s self-contained, mounted under the hood, with no moving parts,” Davis-Monthan Major Andy Middione told Sutley.

“Do you think it will work on my Subaru?” Sutley asked, to which Middione replied “yes,” adding said it could be installed by any mechanic.

• A 144-room dormitory, costing $12.8 million and partially occupied, that has passive solar heating and piping for gray water along with the solar panels atop the basketball court.

The tour came as President Obama is pushing a sweeping renewable-energy policy calling for continued tax credits to encourage solar purchases. At the same time, he’s supporting continued development of natural gas reserves, which has stirred some concern among renewable advocates that the cheaper gas will discourage use of more expensive renewables.

Meeting with reporters after the tour, Sutley signaled the administration’s willingness to continue to push for more solar panel manufacturing in this country. That’s despite widespread cutbacks among domestic panel manufacturers due to competition from cheaper Chinese panels. Sutley said there is demand for solar panels around the country, and “people want to be close to the demand.”

On StarNet: Read more environment-related articles at


Contact reporter Tony Davis at tdavis@azstarnet.com or 806-7746.
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