Getting Charged About Energy

It’s about costs, efficiency, sustainability — and long-term infrastructure planning.


Many airports are increasingly looking at both sides of the energy equation — not only how to control demand, but how to get the most out of their supply. “Energy and sustainability have been a hot button on and off for the last couple of years,” says Bill Fife, corporate vice president and director of aviation services for DMJM Harris. Airports embracing this strategy are reaping the benefits of their investment, both for their business and their bottom line.

“I’ve been dealing with this issue for over 40 years,” says Fife. “It’s not going to go away.” Fife says that the first step for any airport serious about sustainability is in its master plan.

“It requires an effort that looks beyond what the normal FAA requirements are for a master plan,” says Fife. The FAA does not require a section on energy in master planning, but Fife believes that will change as FAA turns its attention to elements of airports beyond airspace and airfields. He says that it will affect airports of every size.

“You can do a master plan for a million passenger airport or a 45 million passenger airport — it’s not different. Just break it down into manageable components, down to the lowest common denominator. You can do it in your home or you can do it on a mega campus. You just have to have the commitment to do it.

“The key thing is it has to start early. You have to go in with a basic plan that you’re going to do it right.”

Losing faith in the grid
There’s no set path for getting the best deal on electricity. Many airports could be considered trailblazers in this area. Then again, many aren’t doing much at all.

“Most airports run off the [local utility company’s electrical] grid,” says Scott Clark, P.E., CEM, principal of facilities division energy and power solutions at Carter & Burgess.

But given recent events with the nation’s infrastructure, some airports are beginning to look for more reliable sources.

“It used to be that you saw the grid as unflappable, it would never go down and you could always count on it,” says Clark. “Well, in the Midwest and the Northeast and even in California and Texas there have been widespread transmission failures where hundreds of thousands of acres have gone black because of some sort of transmission failure in the infrastructure.

“The transmission grid has not kept up with the growth over the last 20 to 30 years. From a reliability standpoint, a lot of people have either experienced outages and they want to do something about it, or they’ve read about outages in other places and they don’t want it to happen to them.”
Fife agrees. “My approach on this, and it’s something you’re beginning to see because of the tragedy of the bridge falling down in Minneapolis, people are beginning to realize that you have to invest in infrastructure. It’s not just spending money.”

Cogeneration gains ground
Ali Dib, P.E., director of facilities and infrastructure, says Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport installed cogeneration in its new terminal opened in 2001, partially because there was no infrastructure already in place.

“The decision was made, that if we were going to build the infrastructure for the new facility, we might as well have redundancy with cogeneration,” Dib says.

The cogeneration plant cost $70 million ‘from scratch’, including building generators, engines, boilers, and chillers. Dib says that the plant was paid for primarily by outside investors, whom DTW is paying back monthly. The plant is operated by an outside company hired by the airport.

DTW still operates primarily off the grid. A deal was reached with the local utility company to power the airport with ‘interruptible power,’ which can be shut off at the utility’s request during peak demand times. Interruptible power costs two to three cents less per kilowatt.

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