Solar Carports at Phoenix VA Medical Center Go Online -- For Real, This Time

What was billed as the nation's largest solar-powered carport system is finally online at the Phoenix VA Health Care Center in Phoenix after a year-and-a-half delay.

As New Times learned in August, news articles and press releases in 2011 announcing the $20 million project's near-completion had been premature.

The panel-covered carports may look neat, but until this week most of them were essentially idle, absorbing sunlight but not transmitting electricity.

See also: - Phoenix VA Hospital's Solar Project Still Not Online; Was to be Finished Early 2012

News articles and press releases in April 2011 announced that the initial 640-kilowatt phase of the federally funded project had been completed, while the larger, 3.81-megawatt second phase was expected to be finished in early 2012.

Though the carports have been producing shade the whole time, only the first phase had been producing usable electricity.

SunWize, a U.S. subsidiary of a Japanese company, Mitsui & Co., Ltd., built the carports and topped them with more than 18,000 Samsung and Sanyo panels. Following the public announcements, though, which included a prominent article in the Arizona Republic, the VA received more federal funding to upgrade its electrical infrastructure, and officials figured it'd be cheaper to keep the solar panels unplugged until the completion of the upgrade project.

VA officials told New Times in August that everything was on schedule to be turned on within two weeks. Still, for the federal government, three months instead of two weeks is actually pretty good.

"I can confirm that they're running," VA spokesman Scott McRoberts said on Wednesday. "Everything's running as designed."

Back in 2011, VA officials said the project would save $375,000 a year in electricity costs for the center. While it's true that means the project would take 53 years to recoup the $20 million investment, much of the cost was simply to provide the structures to cover about 1,600 parking spaces. Who could deny our state's veterans a decently shaded parking spot in the summer?

According to SunWize's website, the 4.45-megawatt-capacity project will generate about seven million kilowatt-hours of energy each year.

How much energy is that? By our calculator, it's the roughly the juice needed to propel nearly 1,200 Teslas about 20,000 miles per year.

Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.

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