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With the sun fittingly shining above them, Air Force leaders joined with private partners and other local community members Tuesday morning to formally dedicate Vandenberg Air Force Base’s new solar farm.

A brief ceremony was held at the 129-acre solar array, which is located off Timber Lane just south of the base’s northern Santa Maria Gate. The gathering, which was attended by about 50 people, concluded with a ceremonial flipping of the power switch, and tours of the massive array, which is the largest within the U.S. Air Force.

The 65,000 panels at the solar farm are expected to provide about a third of VAFB’s total energy over the next 25 years. Several speakers at Tuesday’s dedication extolled the new clean, renewable energy source, but the significance goes beyond just the raw power, according to Mark Correll, the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force.

Correll said the “resilience” of the power provided by the array was of particular importance from the Air Force’s perspective.

“By resilience, I mean if we were to be separated from the grid in some way, shape or form, either from natural disaster or if someone was trying to impact our mission, how would we be able to recover from that and continue to do the mission?” he said. “Power systems like this provide that kind of resilience.”

Correll noted that other energy sources, like coal, oil and natural gas, don’t offer that same protection.

“If someone wants to impact our mission, if they can shut down the fuel supply, then our power’s out of business,” he said.

“You can’t shut down the sun (and) you can’t shut down the wind,” he added, “so things like this are really important to us. At the end of the day, resilience is first and foremost for the Air Force.”

The solar array was built through a partnership between the Air Force, Defense Logistics Agency and SunPower, the energy company that designed and installed the panels.

Work on the project started in May 2017 and the farm became operational in January of this year.

David McIlhenny, the vice president of project finance for SunPower, noted that the new solar farm “uses our highest quality and our most innovative technology.”

“It has the most electricity output from a given area of space because of our high-efficiency technology,” he said, noting that the array is expected to produce about 54,500 megawatts of energy annually.

In addition to saving on energy costs, the solar farm is also projected to help the Air Force reach its goal of meeting 25 percent of its energy demand from renewable sources.

Tuesday’s ceremony was held under a makeshift tent that was set up within the array just off Timber Lane. At the end of the presentations, the speakers gathered near a ceremonial switch and pulled the handle down, which lit up small lights on a sign promoting the project’s partnership.

Col. Gregory Wood, the vice commander of the 30th Space Wing at VAFB, said other joint public-private projects could be on the horizon.

“We look forward to continued partnerships and we hope (this) sets the stage and sets an example for other endeavors to come,” he said.

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Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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