Getting Charged About Energy

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

The cogeneration plant can be powered using either natural gas or jet fuel, depending on whichever costs less at the time. “If [the utility company] needs to interrupt, they give us an option,” Dib explains. “We can either generate or pay a penalty for not shutting down. It’s a business decision. And in most cases, we have been cogenerating because it’s cheaper than paying the penalty.” DTW has even generated a surplus of energy and sold it back to the grid at times.

Clark at Carter & Burgess agrees with the philosophy used at DTW, and sees it being increasingly used in the future. “The industry’s gone through about a five- or six-year lull period after 9/11,” Clark says. “And now we’re seeing a tremendous amount of airport activity again in the last year or so, and there’s a lot of pent-up demand for facilities and airport growth.

“It’s incumbent on airports to really think about the infrastructure side of the equation and not just think about the terminal and how many gates they need.”

Dib says that the cogeneration plant has already proven its value as a reliable source of power during a crisis. In 2003, Michigan was one of five states that lost power for several days. “In four seconds, that cogeneration was up and running and we were able to fly airplanes,” Dib says. “The rest of the state was dark, but the airport was running.

“That’s one of my objectives, is to try to save money and stay in business if there’s a grid interruption.”

Port Columbus (Ohio) International Airport considered cogeneration for its 2003-2004 Port Columbus Master Plan update, but decided against it because of a poor return on investment considering the current low cost of electricity there.

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport is also considering cogeneration as an option, as drilling for natural gas under their airfield, to which it owns the rights, recently began.

“It’s not a typical situation, it’s very unique to DFW,” Clark says. “It opens another whole opportunity to generate power on the airport property, because they have a fuel source that they own.”

Cogeneration is 35 to 45 percent more efficient than typical utility systems, because heat generated from producing power is used in the facility’s heating and cooling systems, rather than going to waste.

“There’s also environmental benefits,” says Clark. “The latest technology that the Texas Council of Environmental Quality would require for new generation equipment produces a fraction of the emissions current utility plants emit. So you actually get a regional emissions benefit by having onsite generation.”

So far, cogeneration hasn’t taken the industry by storm — yet. “I think there’s only three or four airports currently using cogeneration,” says Fife.
Cogeneration has gained a lot of ground in another, somewhat similar industry — universities. “Universities by their nature tend to think long-term,” says Clark. “They’ve been around for 100 years, and they know they’re going to be around for another 100 years, so that’s how they approach it. Airports could learn from that model.”

Going for the green
Some airports are also keeping an eye out for renewable energy opportunities. Dib says DTW has considered several renewable energy fuel sources for the cogeneration plant in the second new terminal to open next year. One or two seem particularly viable, he says, and they hope to make an announcement on the subject soon.

Steve Wareham, airport director of Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport, says MSP tried to buy a hydroplant built on the Mississippi River when it was up for sale recently, due to a Ford manufacturing plant closing.

“We analyzed it financially and with our energy consultants,” Warehem explains. “In the end we decided it could have been a very advantageous thing to have. Slightly out of our core mission, but we thought it’d be great to basically have our own ‘power source.’”

Lacking the necessary transmission infrastructure, MSP would have generated the power and sold it to the grid, then bought it back. It would have been one of the first fully ‘green’ airports in terms of renewable energy, says Wareham.

“We would have had renewable energy resource credits that we perhaps could have traded on the open market,” Wareham says. “In fact, I think that’s why we didn’t win the bid. The Canadian utility company [that won the bid] was probably looking at these deferred emission credits and renewable energy credits that they could sell off that would be worth a lot more than they are perhaps today.”

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