DIA to partner with two firms on solar energy project

Private firms to supply upfront investments


Denver International Airport is getting in on the solar energy game, partnering with two companies to develop a system that will generate electricity from the sun.

WorldWater & Solar Technologies Corp. will design and build the two-megawatt solar energy system just outside DIA's main terminal, installing 9,800 gleaming solar panels that will be visible from Pena Boulevard as drivers approach and leave the airport.

Another company, MMA Renewable Ventures, will own and operate it, selling power to DIA essentially at the same rates it now pays Xcel Energy.

All of the upfront costs are being handled by MMA and WorldWater. DIA will get some - though not much - additional revenue from leasing the 7.5-acre site to MMA. The airport also has the option of purchasing the facility in five years.

The system, which will be up and running next year before the Democratic National Convention, is expected to generate 3.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, or more, annually. That's enough to power nearly 1,000 homes each year.

But it represents less than 2 percent of DIA's energy use. Enough to, for example, account for half the power needs of its underground trains.

DIA, though, says the move is a step in the right direction as it looks to diversify its energy sources and minimize its impact on the environment. The airport will be able to reduce carbon emissions by more than 5 million pounds a year, officials said.

"It's a hedge against future rising utility costs, plus we're a very green airport," said DIA spokesman Chuck Cannon. "Solar technology is a good alternative for us."

DIA will use all of the solar energy the system generates rather than pump it back into the energy grid and receive a credit.

"DIA is committed to buying energy from the system, but it doesn't have to put any money up front to this project," said Neway Argaw, vice president of business development for WorldWater.

The companies did not disclose how much it will cost to design and build the system.

The move fits in with Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper's efforts to make the city a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The system uses advanced solar panels that swivel east- to-west to follow the trajectory of the sun, maximizing exposure and generating up to 15 percent more energy than if the panels were idle.

It can automatically detect heavy wind and snow levels to stop the panels from moving so that they don't break, Argaw said.

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9,800 solar panels will be installed just outside DIA's main terminal.

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