Airport Looks to Buy Old St. Paul Dam for Power, Profits

The Metropolitan Airports Commission is readying a bid for Ford's hydroelectric plant in St. Paul in a move that could create the country's first "green" airport.

The MAC now pays about $8 million a year to heat, cool and light Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for passengers, airlines and retail tenants. Gaining access to the Ford plant's hydroelectric power could slash costs and possibly generate "nonaviation" revenue, which many airports are craving as they debate reducing their charges to airlines in order to keep or attract carriers.

"We currently get our energy supply from Xcel Energy the old, traditional way. If we could convert that to a hydro-generated electrical supply for this airport and have enough where we could actually sell excess power to other users, that would be very good utilization of our natural resources," MAC Executive Director Jeff Hamiel said Monday.

"We would be very excited about this. The airport consumes a lot of electricity. If we can find a way of cutting our energy consumption and cost in a green way, that would be a fantastic leap for us."

Engineers, attorneys and MAC officials will walk through and evaluate the plant and its operating costs Jan. 26. Several other bidders are vying for the plant, though Ford Motor Co. has declined to name them.

"We have been working on this since November of last year and are still in the information-gathering stage to decide if this makes sense to pursue," MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan said. "Ideally it appears it could be a good solution for everybody. It provides green energy. Any reduction in costs for powering the airport would be beneficial."

In the event of a sale to MAC, the energy produced by the Ford plant would probably be sold to Xcel Energy to be put on a public energy grid. The MAC would then receive energy credits from Xcel and probably cash, too, if the airport requires less energy than the hydro plant produces.

"The Ford hydro plant has a capacity of about 18 megawatts of electricity down there a year, and we use 15,'' said Steve Wareham, the airport's director.

Ford said last month that it was soliciting bids for the hydroelectric plant. The automaker is preparing to shut down 16 plants across North America, including the Ford Ranger plant in St. Paul. The plant, which will be closed in 2008, has been powered by the hydroelectric plant for 82 years.

Cecile Bedor, director of planning and economic development for the city of St. Paul, said the city expects the plant's new owner to provide power for whatever project replaces the Ranger manufacturing facility, which covers 125 acres.

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