UPDATE: AFA solar project criticized

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The Air Force Academy released the following statement late yesterday, extolling the virtues of the solar array but failing to address the findings of the Pentagon's audit.

"We now have a 6MW solar array. Meter readings for May 2011 (while not operating full capacity yet) showed the array generated 870,571 kilowatt-hours of electricity, representing approximately 10.9 percent of USAFA's electrical load for the month. At $0.059 per kilowatt-hour, that results in an electrical energy costs savings of $51,364. We believe this array will greatly complement our efforts to reduce base operating costs, meet national energy mandates, and highlight the benefits of renewable energy generation. In addition, the array has the potential to save nearly $1M in total energy costs annually, including reducing some 9,400 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. This equates to removing nearly 41,000 cars from the roads over the 25 year warranted life-span of the solar array system. This is a win for not only the Air Force Academy, but the American taxpayer."

————— ORIGINAL POST, MONDAY, JUNE 27, 12:01 P.M. —————-

Earlier this month, the Air Force Academy hosted a dedication of its new 6-megawatt solar array funded with $18.3 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. There was lots of back-slapping and self-congratulating going on among Colorado Springs Utilities officials and the Academy.

On the right is Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte; to his right is Council President Scott Hente.
  • On the right is Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte; to his right is Council President Scott Hente.

Now, the Air Force Times reports the Defense Department isn't very impressed with the project, and, in fact, has released a report criticizing how it was handled.

The Times reports the Pentagon slammed the Academy, "blaming contracting blunders for a seven-month delay and $676,000 in lost interest."

Here's an overview from the DoD report:

What we Found
The USAFA properly justified the solar array project; however, it could have significantly improved planning, funding, and initial execution of the project in accordance with FAR requirements. This occurred because the USAFA incorrectly categorized all project costs as a utility company connection charge and structured the project to require a single advance payment to Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) and the USAFA incorrectly exempted the solar array project from FAR Subpart 32.4, ―Advance Payments for Non-Commercial Items.‖ As a result, the USAFA paid the $18.3 million program funds in advance to CSU instead of the $1.2 million for connection of the solar array to the electrical grid, which was an allowable exemption of the FAR. In addition, as of
December 20, 2010, the project was over 7 months behind schedule, and the USAFA had no financial leverage to ensure its timely completion.

Specifically, the DoD outlined the delays using this chart:

Screen_shot_2011-06-27_at_11.43.46_AM.png

In an e-mail response, Utilities spokesman Steve Berry referred questions about the report's findings to the Academy, but added, "We're proud of the project and our partnership with the Air Force Academy and SunPower."

We've asked the Academy to comment on the report and also to address whether the Academy plans to conduct an administrative review to determine blame, as recommended by the Pentagon. We haven't heard back but will update when we do.

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