The U.S. Air Force said Monday that the largest solar-electric system in North America, a 14-megawatt installation at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, is up and running.

The project is expected to generate more than 30 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, supplying approximately 25 percent of the electricity used at the base.

That's far more electricity than is being churned out by the largest corporate installation so far, a 1.6-megawatt photovoltaic project that Google installed earlier this year (see Google Solar, in Pictures).

But it falls short of the 64 megawatts being generated by Nevada Solar One, a solar-thermal project in Nevada built by Acciona Solar Power. Instead of using sunlight to make electricity, like photovoltaic solar technologies, solar-thermal projects use the sun's heat.

The Air Force made the announcement at a ceremony Monday jointly with the Nevada Power Co., as well as with MMA Renewable Ventures, which financed the project and will operate it, and SunPower Corp., which designed and built the plant.

MMA Renewable Ventures, a subsidiary of Municipal Mortgage & Equity or MuniMae (NYSE: MMA), pays the upfront costs of commercial solar projects in exchange for a long-term agreement from customers to buy the power. The company raised an undisclosed amount of financing from Citi, Allstate and John Hancock Financial Services for the Nellis project in October.

In a written statement, Air Force Assistant Secretary William Anderson said the Nellis project is the first of many steps toward bringing more renewable energy to the military branch, which is the largest energy consumer in the federal government.

The new system also helps make Nevada the No. 1 state in solar generation per capita, said Michael Yackira, CEO of Sierra Pacific Resources, Nevada Power's parent company.

solar field
North America's largest solar-electric system has been completed at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. U.S. Air Force Assistant Secretary William Anderson and Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons flipped the switch on the project at a ceremony Monday.