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AF environmental study greenlights Edwards solar project

Solar panel array at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Solar panel array at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (Air Force photo by Giancarlo Casem)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – A project to develop what could be one of the largest solar photovoltaic arrays in the country -- and the largest solar project ever for the Department of Defense at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. -- is moving forward after clearing a required environmental impact study.

The Air Force signed a record of decision Nov. 23 after completing an environmental impact statement for construction of a solar array that could produce up to 650 megawatts of power on up to 4,000 acres of non-excess underutilized property at Edwards. 

Under the Air Force’s Enhanced Use Lease program, special purpose entities managed by private developer Terra-Gen, LLC, incrementally lease and develop the property in exchange for cash or in-kind consideration at or above fair market value. The Air Force Civil Engineer Center, a primary subordinate unit of the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, manages the program. 

The Air Force estimates the project could provide power for an average of 238,000 homes in California, and could yield cash rent consideration up to $80 million throughout the expected 35-year lease, depending on how much of the 4,000-acre parcel is developed, said Robert Moriarty, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations. 

“This is a win-win for the Air Force and the community,” Moriarty said. “This EUL optimizes the value of Air Force land, is compatible with the Edwards Air Force Base mission and long-term plans, generates energy for the regional grid, and enhances energy resilience for the installation and the community.”

With the record of decision in place, Terra-Gen can complete pre-construction due diligence activities that support Kern County design reviews and project permitting. The Air Force and Terra-Gen’s special purpose entities can also execute the first of multiple site development leases authorizing project construction in early 2021, said AFCEC EUL Project Manager Martin Briseno.

The parcel is within the Bissell Basin Archeological District, where preliminary analysis indicated the presence of National Register of Historic Places-eligible sites to include remnants of historic period home sites, Briseno said. To protect the sites, Edwards officials joined regulators and local tribes in a memorandum of agreement detailing mitigation efforts to protect and preserve sites during and after construction. The agreement includes avoidance of sensitive sites, recovering artifacts and potential reburial.  

“Getting to this point in time has taken a lot of hard work,” said James Judkins, director for the 412th Civil Engineer Group at Edwards AFB. “From our wing commander, AFCEC, headquarters Air Force Materiel Command, headquarters Air Force teams, the state historic preservation office, Kern County, the Tejon and San Manuel Band of Native Americans, the environmental management team, to our new partner Terra-Gen, this has truly taken a team effort to make happen.  I look forward to working with everyone as we turn this dream into reality.”