Airport Wants to Double Solar Farm

Chattanooga Airport officials are looking to nearly double the size of its new solar farm, already the biggest in the area and larger than at any other Tennessee airport.

The 1.1 megawatt solar farm on the west side of the airport's main runway will grow to 2.1 megawatts if officials can secure a federal grant for the project. Airport officials said the first phase of the solar farm, which included installing 3,998 solar panels, cost about $4.3 million. The Federal Aviation Administration paid 95 percent of the cost.

John Naylor, the airport's vice president of planning and development, said the facility that began producing power in December is meeting projections. "We are doing quite well," Naylor told airport commissioners. "If the month keeps going, we'll exceed expectations for this month."

He said the solar array has produced more than 57,000 kilowatt-hours worth of energy and saved 41 tons of carbon dioxide this month.

"We just need more sun, right?" board member Farzana Mitchell quipped.

Naylor said that even with the above average rain so far this year, the project is doing what was intended. Airport spokeswoman Christina Siebold said the city wants to promote environmental stewardship and offset part of the carbon footprint produced by the airplanes that fly in and out of Chattanooga.

"From a community standpoint, it's the right thing to do," she said about the solar farm. "As a facility, we want to find ways to reduce the carbon footprint and take a stand for sustainability."

The airport's existing solar farm is slated to sell to EPB and the Tennessee Valley Authority about $100,000 worth of electricity annually, said Terry Hart, the facility's interim chief executive. Airport officials agreed to spend about $152,000 to hire a company to put together an application for the new solar grant and another to provide ground power for planes parked at the terminal gates.

Hart said that offering the airlines ground energy saves the carriers money and allows planes to avoid having to run on auxiliary power on the ground.

Naylor said that by offering the two applications, airport costs for the fees will only be $7,000 if the grants are approved through federal reimbursements. He said that if the solar farm grant isn't approved, most of the airport's upfront costs will be covered by the ground power grant.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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