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VA funds solar energy project in Oklahoma City

By Darla Shelden

Contributing Writer


The Oklahoma City VA Medical Center (VAMC), 921 NE 13 St., is installing a $4.6 million, one megawatt (MW) solar PV system that will supply 5.5 percent of the facility’s annual electrical needs.  The work is projected to be completed in the next two weeks.


The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has awarded $56.7 million in contracts to build five solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in support of ongoing energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives.


“The actual work in Oklahoma City began in Oct., 2011,” said Russ Goering, Energy Engineer for the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center. “It was a design build. The design is complete and the construction is about 80 percent complete.


“The contractor had a detailed scope of work, but they had to actually design the system first and provide the engineering services to meet the plan specifications, and the contractor then actually completes the work once that design was approved.”


The solar contractor for the Oklahoma City project is SunWize Technologies, based in California.


The VA is installing the solar PV systems at VA medical centers at sites based on feasibility studies that determined the most ideal locations to invest in on-site renewable energy projects. Solar PV installations include Oklahoma City; Temple and Amarillo, Texas; Loma Linda and West Los Angeles, CA.


“There are a number of VA Hospitals that are doing this,” said Goering. “We are building one at the VA Medical Center in Muskogee as well. We have recently completed the design and we are just starting the construction this week.”


The Muskogee project is a 415.2 KW solar PV system.


VA has also awarded 35 additional solar PV systems at medical centers and national cemeteries across the nation. VA has invested over $300 million in renewable energy projects since 2009.


The Oklahoma City VA Medical Center has installed the solar panels over what had just an open parking lot. Visitors have already noticed a difference, particularly last summer when temperatures were well over 100 degrees. “I’ve gotten lots of comments about how nice it is to have shaded parking,” said Goering.


“I was really excited when I heard about this,” said Dr. Katherine Scheirman, Col. USAF (ret). “I remembered visiting a friend when he was in the hospital there, and coming out to the huge parking lot, and my car was almost too hot to get into. Covered parking generating electricity is a brilliant idea for the VA patients and their visitors.”


“The project was done to provide a fixed amount of solar power,” said Goering. “The best way to do that was to mount the panels on top of this carport-like structure, which has a metal framework. The panels form the roof of this structure that is over half of the parking lot, which is approximately 200 ft by 300 ft.”


VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said, “With these investments in clean energy and other renewable energy projects, we are marching forward with the President’s initiative to expand innovation in the federal government and create new jobs. The benefits of using solar power are profound, from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to improving the quality of the air we breathe. This initiative is good for Veterans and good for our environment.”


The Oklahoma City VAMC is a 192-operating bed hospital, serving 48 Oklahoma counties and two counties in north central Texas with a veteran population of over 225,000.


Frank Vazquez, Acting Medical Center Director said, “The Oklahoma City VA Medical Center and our community based outpatient clinics are dedicated to investing in clean energy and other renewable energy projects. With our solar panel project we are matching Washington’s initiative by create energy-efficient buildings. This project will allow us to reduce our utility bill by using a renewable energy source for years to come.” Offering clean energy solutions is good for our environment and good for our Veterans.”


Goering said, “The Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires all federal agencies to be getting 7.5 percent of their electrical energy from renewable sources by the year 2013, and every year thereafter. With this system, we will meet that requirement. It will use all of the power generated from this system and it only offsets a portion of what we would otherwise purchase from OG&E. We’ll have a smaller electric bill, but none of the power will go back onto the grid, we will use it all.  It will save us about $110,000 a year off of our electric bill. And we get shaded parking besides!”


Other sustainable improvements the VA has made include solar-powered charging stations for electric cars at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center in West Virginia, a self-contained E-85 ethanol fueling station at the Martinez Outpatient Clinic in California, and a wind turbine at the Massachusetts National Cemetery.


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