Dulles solar farm would be the largest at a US airport

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Dulles International Airport could soon be home to the largest airport-based solar and battery development in the United States – a development that, at peak production, could provide enough energy to power more than 37,000 Virginia homes. North.

The solar farm would be built and operated by Dominion Energy on over 835 acres of land. It would include a solar panel capable of producing 100 megawatts of solar generation and a 50 megawatt battery storage system. The energy generated would power the largest power grid in Northern Virginia.

Once built, Dulles would join a growing number of airports across the country that are considering solar developments as a way to meet sustainability goals, save money on electricity and generate revenue from land that might otherwise be unusable. The project is one of dozens the Virginia utility company is building across the state as it scales to meet the demands of a sweeping clean energy law that state lawmakers passed in 2020.

“It’s land adjacent to a runway that doesn’t have great building potential,” said Thomas Beatty, vice president of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s office of engineering. “Nobody wants to build a hotel next to a track, so for us and for them it made sense.”

The Dulles project is a response to the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which requires Dominion to provide electricity from 100% renewable sources by 2045, while Southwest Virginia’s Appalachian Power must be free of charge. carbon by 2050. The measure also set a timetable for the shutdown of old fossil fuels. factories and mandatory gains in energy efficiency.

In addition to the proposed solar and storage works at Dulles, Dominion is also building the largest offshore wind project in the United States off Virginia Beach and a project in southwestern Virginia, known as Highland Solar, which will convert a coal mine into a solar farm.

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Under the proposed deal with Dulles, Dominion would lease land from the airport authority, which manages Dulles and Reagan national airports. MWAA would not receive traditional rents, but instead Dominion would build two 1-megawatt solar carports to power the airport and provide the authority with 18 electric buses and 50 electric vehicles. Dominion would also provide the airport authority with vehicle charging infrastructure.

Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby said the deal could be a model for airports across the country considering similar projects because it incorporates both renewable energy and clean transportation.

The project awaits final federal approvals from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which Ruby says could come later this year. Construction could start in 2023 and the development could start producing electricity in the second half of 2024.

The Federal Aviation Administration determined that the project would not interfere with flight operations at the airport. DOT officials did not respond to a request for comment on the project.

A preliminary environmental assessment of the possible effects of the project was completed last year, examining possible sites for solar development. In a letter to the MWAA in response to this assessment, groups such as the Piedmont Environmental Council, the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust urged Dominion and the MWAA to install solar panels on existing buildings and above parking areas to reduce effects on undeveloped land.

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Ruby said Dominion evaluated several alternatives as part of the study, including rooftop installations. He said the assessment concluded that building on structures was not a feasible alternative due to the limited rooftop space available for the solar installation. The company also determined that the ground-mounted solar panel would be more cost effective for customers and produce more energy than rooftop panels.

Plans call for the solar park to be built in the southwest corner of the airport, near Loudoun County Parkway. A final environmental assessment is expected to be sent by the MWAA to the FAA for review later this year.

Dulles, located about 25 miles west of Washington, is among several airports nationwide seeking to harness the power of the sun in recent years.

A 2020 study by Serena Kim, a research associate at the College of Engineering, Design and Computing at the University of Colorado at Denver, found that 20% of the nation’s 488 public airports use solar power. Kim said she expects that number to grow.

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“Airports will continue to deploy solar projects as solar panels and batteries become cheaper, and airports can diversify the energy mix and promote energy security,” Kim said.

In most cases, airports contract with a company that constructs and manages the solar development, although financial arrangements vary.

Indianapolis International Airport will generate more than $9 million from land it leases from a private company for a 183-acre solar farm, the first phase of which began operating in 2013. More than The development’s 87,000 solar panels produce enough energy to power 3,675 homes.

Kent Ebbing, project manager for real estate development at Indianapolis Airport, said solar power is a resource all airports should consider.

Denver International Airport, which in 2008 became one of the first to install a solar panel on its campus, has business models that allow it to purchase electricity at a reduced rate. The arrangement has saved the airport millions of dollars in energy costs, said Scott Morrissey, the airport’s senior vice president of sustainability.

“We will fuel our growth with low-carbon, cost-effective, reliable and resilient electricity,” he said. “Solar really needs to be part of that.”

Pavel Molchanov, energy analyst at financial services firm Raymond James, said Dominion’s investment in Dulles comes as a growing number of companies look to self-generated renewable energy as part of environmental, social and governance objectives.

Molchanov said solar power has become the world’s fastest growing source of energy, in part because it can work in a variety of environments and across vast swaths of land that might otherwise be unbuildable. . He said that can make an airport with a large geographic footprint, like Dulles — which spans more than 12,000 acres — an ideal site.

“There’s a lot of space,” he said. “Think of all that grassy territory around the tracks that remains empty.”

Even airports with limited floor space can benefit by installing solar panels above terminal buildings, Molchanov said. Wind is a popular alternative in some settings, he said, but is not viable around airports due to the effect turbines can have on flight operations.

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After years of considering different proposals to create solar power in Dulles, airport authorities and Dominion officials said they were eager to move forward with the project.

“A clean energy transition is underway. Every passenger who takes off and lands in Dulles is going to see this board,” Ruby said. “So it’s kind of cool that all passengers traveling to and from Dulles are seeing this same energy transition taking place.”

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