Apr. 14 -- Fresno Yosemite International Airport soon will be home to the largest solar power system of any airport in the country -- and under a plan approved this week by the Fresno City Council, it shouldn't cost the city a dime.
That's because the 2-megawatt, $16 million solar system expected to be completed by March 2008 will be owned and operated by the New Jersey-based company that will build it, WorldWater & Power Corp.
In fact, under a power purchase agreement that is sweetened by state incentives and rebates administered through Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the new power system should save the airport about $13 million in electricity bills over the next 20 years, said Russ Widmar, the city's aviation director.
"We think it's a feather in our cap," Widmar said of the project, which is expected to see construction begin this summer. "It's the right thing to do. It continues the city's green policy, and, frankly, who wouldn't want to fix a portion of their utility bill for 25 years at rates that are comparable to today?"
That's the key to the project's cost savings, he said. With electricity costs increasing an average of 6% per year, being able to provide a slice of the airport's power needs at locked-in rates is almost certain to save money, he said.
After 20 years, the airport will take ownership of the system but will continue to work with WorldWater & Power under a set of operations and maintenance agreements for another five years, Widmar said.
The solar power system itself will be made up of 25 acres of photovoltaic solar panels spread across two locations, he said.
The first, an empty field owned by the airport at the southeast corner of Clovis and McKinley avenues, lies in the airport's restricted "clear zone," meaning no buildings can be erected on it, Widmar said. Solar panels are perfectly all right, however.
The airport's 5-acre rental car return lot also will have a set of solar panels that will do double duty as sun shades for the parking lot, he said. The airport had planned to build its own cover at the lot, so letting WorldWater & Power install solar collectors instead will save the airport about $5.5 million in construction and finance costs, he said.
Quentin Kelly, chief executive of WorldWater & Power, said the project is garnering some attention from managers of other airports across the country, though he declined to say which.
"I know of at least seven or eight other major airports that will be coming out to look at our system," he said.
After all, Fresno's airport isn't the only one looking for ways to make money from the land left vacant at the ends of runways and other restricted areas, Kelly said.
"Ultimately, airports all over are going to be taking advantage of this technology," he said.
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