Pole-mounted solar installation at Arden Hills Army Training Site (Photo courtesy All Energy Solar)

One of the Midwest’s largest — and tallest — pole-mounted solar installations is being completed this week at a Minnesota military site.

More than 370 solar panels shade, but don’t obstruct, the grounds of the Arden Hills Army Training Site, just north of St. Paul. The 89-kilowatt system will supply an estimated 15 percent of the facility’s power needs.

The solar installation is part of an ambitious, nationwide investment in clean energy by the Army, which announced a goal last fall of achieving ‘net-zero’ energy use by 2030.

The panels were installed atop 31 utility poles, each one standing between nine and 11 feet tall and holding a dozen panels. Most pole-mounted solar systems are only about six feet off the ground, but this installation was taller in order to meet the military’s requirements that the panels not obstruct sight lines or get in the way of military vehicles.

“They want to be able to see everything underneath all of the arrays,” said Michael Allen, co-founder of All Energy Solar, the Prescott, Wisconsin, company that designed and built the solar system.

The array is the largest installed in Minnesota in 2011, and Allen believes it’s one of the largest pole-mounted systems in the Midwest. The raised systems are more expensive, so they’re typically only used where there’s insufficient roof or ground space. The Army hasn’t released a cost figure for the Arden Hills project.

A recent report by The Pew Charitable Trusts, “From Barracks to the Battlefield: Clean Energy Innovation and America’s Armed Forces,” (pdf) highlights a surge in energy investments by the military. U.S. Department of Defense spending on energy-efficiency and renewable energy projects grew from $400 million in 2006 to $1.2 billion in 2009.

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