Airports going 'green' with renewable energy

May 7, 2012

May 06--"The one thing we seem to have in abundance out here is wind," said Tim Bradshaw, Eastern Iowa Airport director.

And with that gift from Mother Nature comes potential.

"I think there are opportunities for smaller wind turbines that would not be considered an obstruction by the FAA.," Bradshw noted.

There are precedents:

At Boston's Logan International Airport, for example, 20 wind turbines began producing power in 2008. The six-foot-tall roof-mounted units are located on the airport's administration building terminal and generate a small amount of electricity in a demonstration project to determine how well turbines withstand Massachusetts weather.

In fact, don't be surprised if you see wind turbines or solar panels sprouting from airport land or terminals the next time you take a flight across the country.

The reason? Aviation worldwide contributes nearly

650 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year, or 2 percent of the total man-made emissions.

With an annual growth rate of five percent, the industry has been under mounting governmental and public pressure to consider the long-term environmental effects of its business.

In response, lowering energy consumption, making land available for wind and solar energy development, reducing carbon emissions and eliminating solid waste are among the "green" initiatives airports nationwide are pursuing with the encouragement and financial support of the federal government.

Solar arrays are providing a portion of the electricity needs at several airports.

Denver International Airport has an 8 megawatt solar array system, one of the largest systems located at an airport in the nation. It provides 6 percent of the airport's electricity.

Baltimore-based Constellation Energy owns and maintains the solar photo voltaic system. It has a 20-year power purchase agreement with Denver International to purchase electricity produced by the solar array.

San Francisco International Airport is installing a 445 kilowatt solar array. The 2,832 solar panels will be located on the roof of the airport's domestic terminal.

San Francisco International also is replacing 6,000 old terminal light fixtures with more energy efficient fluorescent lighting. When that project is completed, the solar system will provide enough power for all daytime lighting in the terminal.

At Fresno Yosemite International Airport in Fresno, Calif., Kevin Meikle, assistant director of aviation, said 12,000 solar panels on 20 acres of land produce 4.2 megawatts of power, or 60 percent of the annual electricity needed by the airport.

"Over the next 25 years, we expect to save $19 million on our electricity bills," Meikle said.

"Saving money is huge, but it's also a fixed cost for 20 years. We know how to budget for the cost of power, rather than getting to the end of each year and trying to figure out where to get the money when the cost is more than we budgeted."

Saving money, as Meikle noted, is not an insignificant part of the incentive.

The Eastern Iowa Airport in February 2011 completed an extensive interior and exterior lighting upgrade that is expected to slash energy use by as much as 80 percent and reduce ongoing maintenance costs. The $208,500 project involved replacing metal halide lights installed in 1985 on the outside of the terminal with energy efficient LED lighting.

Older T12 fluorescent lights inside the terminal were replaced with more energy efficient T8 lighting. The airport received a federal grant of $84,615 from the Iowa Office of Energy Independence and matched it with $123,885 of local funding to cover the cost of the project.

Operations Director Sara Mau said the airport is considering additional green opportunities.

"We are always looking for ways to improve our business practices while considering the environmental impacts of our operation," Mau said. "Our master plan study is looking at different projects and financial analysis with the project.

"We are looking to replace lighting in parking lots with LED lighting, similar to the upgrade project in the terminal. We will always take a look at solar, wind, etc., within the airport environment.

"A personal goal of mine is to look at ways to lighten our footprint, such as starting with our administration building to make it a zero-waste building."

A report released last month by the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggested yet another avenue, contending airports could become a significant source of biomass for the production of biofuels.

"Converting airport grasslands to biofuel, solar or wind production not only provides more environmentally-sound alternative energy sources for our country, but may also increase revenue for airports and reduce the local abundance of potentially hazardous wildlife to aircraft," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the report.

The Eastern Iowa Airport owns slightly fewer than 3,000 acres of land that's leased to farmers for corn and soybean production on a crop share basis. Director Bradshaw believes the use of land for solar arrays and small wind turbines would not idle a significant portion of the airport's farmland.

Copyright 2012 - The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa