Airport breaks ground on its future; New car-rental facility, solar panels are big steps forward.

Fresno Yosemite International Airport took two large steps forward Thursday when city officials broke ground on a new car-rental facility and solar panels that will provide 40% of the airport's power.

The cost: $43 million.

"Fresno will be a model for other airports," said Connie Gurich, western region director of properties for The Hertz Corp. "This will be state-of-the-art."

Gurich, who is based in Los Angeles, traveled to Fresno for the kickoff ceremonies. Looking over an artist's rendering, Gurich said the enhancements will triple the number of cars that rental agencies have in Fresno.

The $27 million project will consolidate the six car rental agencies on one 15-acre site, build a covered walkway to protect customers walking to and from cars and provide covered parking for hundreds of rental vehicles.

Gurich said the project improves service for rental car agencies and customers.

"This will solve all the customer service issues," she said. "It is critical for us."

Airport officials also want to enhance car-rental operations because they are a vital source of revenue, coming in second to parking fees. Combined, those two sources generate 47% of the airport's income, said spokeswoman Vikki Calderon.

Fees from rental-car users will fund the project. The city gets 10% of what the agencies generate.

The $16 million, 2-megawatt solar project includes 2,352 solar panels that will be affixed to the roof of the covered parking and 9,408 more panels on 20 acres the airport controls at the southeast corner of McKinley and Clovis avenues, said Frank Smith, executive vice president of WorldWater & Power Corp., a New Jersey company building the solar-power facilities.

It is believed to be the largest airport solar photovoltaic project in the nation and should save the airport $13 million in energy costs over 25 years, said Russ Widmar, the city's director of aviation.

Smith said the panels on the parking structure will generate 25% of the solar power, and the larger site on Clovis Avenue will produce the remaining 75%.

The airport signed a power-purchase contract, and investors who buy tax credits will sell the energy.

This is the second project that WorldWater & Power is doing in Fresno. The other is to provide irrigation power at the International Center for Water Technology at Fresno State.

Smith likes the potential for agriculture uses so much that WorldWater & Power has opened a Western region sales office in Fresno. The business employs four people but is expected to grow with the interest in solar technology, he said.

City officials praised the two projects, saying they go far toward improving Fresno's image.

"The airport is where people get their first impression of Fresno," said City Council Member Jerry Duncan. "We will emerge as a 21st-century airport in what is becoming a 21st-century city."

The reporter can be reached at or (559) 441-6495.