The Earth, Wind and Fire of Airport Sustainability

How sustainable efforts are breathing new life into today’s airports, saving the environment and money at the same time

The project’s origins began in 2012, when Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) signed a land-lease with the airport to begin working on the project. Prework commenced, which included addressing FAA air-space issues, environmental and geological work, glare studies, and getting approval from the Indiana Regulatory Commission.

In the past, solar farms near airports received flack over purported glare issues, but Eric Anderson, airport property manager, maintains this is far from the case here. “We checked all the orientations for pilots and control towers, and did all the things required by the FAA in terms of positioning and testing, and the solar farm is oriented in such a way to eliminate glare,” he says.

Telamon and Johnson Melloh Solutions designed, constructed and will operate this new solar farm. The power produced will be sold to IPL through a 15-year power purchase program, and will be fed into a grid of existing surface transmission lines that connect the airport to the IPL’s substation to the west. The renewable energy generated by this solar farm, where each solar panel is capable of producing 280 watts of electricity at peak production, is projected to prevent 11,000 tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the environment annually, which according to Anderson, is the equivalent of removing approximately 2,000 cars from the roads. In addition, he says, the 12.5 MW of power the farm produces is projected to provide enough electricity for 1,200 average-size homes each year.

The airport also profits by leasing the land, says Anderson. The land where the farm rests is near a runway, and thus is bound by height restrictions. “We couldn’t build an office building, a hangar or even a parking lot there,” he says. “Now we are getting $285,000 a year in additional revenue for it.”

The project’s success landed an agreement for a second solar farm of similar size and scope to rest on an additional 75 acres of airport land. That project is currently waiting on FAA approval, according to Anderson.

Airports are increasingly seeking ways to maximize aeronautical revenue and the solar farm is certainly doing that in Indianapolis. Though the electricity produced must go into the power grid, rather than power the terminal itself, Anderson says the solar farm’s presence is a symbol of the airport’s commitment to sustainability. “It’s an iconic symbol for Indianapolis,” he says. “Anyone who flies here will see the solar farm; it’s positioned strategically so that it will be seen.”

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