U.S. grant pays for solar farm at Chattanooga's Lovell Field airport

U.S. grant pays for solar farm at Chattanooga's Lovell Field airport

December 13th, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

An Allegiant Air flight bound for St Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla., lifts off near a solar panel farm recently installed at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Terry Hart, Chattanooga airport

Terry Hart, Chattanooga airport

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

The biggest solar energy farm at an airport in Tennessee will go on line later this month, Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport officials said Monday.

The facility will sell to EPB and the Tennessee Valley Authority about $100,000 worth of electricity annually, said Terry Hart, the airport's interim chief executive.

"We're starting to see more of these developments on airports," he said.

There could be as many as two other phases to the airport's solar farm depending on grant funding, officials said. The $4.3 million project will produce 1.1 megawatts of electricity, they said.

That's enough to power as many as 90 homes, said Ross Fox of Young Electric Co., which installed the system.

"It's quite a bit of power," he said about the electricity generated by the estimated 3,998 solar panels.

Dan Fossitt, a partner in engineering and installation firm Inman Solar of Atlanta, said Chattanooga was only the second airport nationally to receive a Federal Aviation Administration grant that targets areas which have air quality problems.

Airport officials have said the FAA grant funded about 95 percent of the project cost.

Fossitt said the payback to the airport will take only about two years in view of its local share of the project's cost.

"It's a short payback," he said.

The site at the airport for the solar farm is on the west side of the main runway on property that wasn't considered usable for aviation purposes, said airport spokeswoman Christina Siebold.

Also, the solar panels are not a hazard for pilots, airport officials said. They said the panels absorb up to 92 percent of light.

An airport in Fresno, Calif., has three solar farms. Airport Improvement Magazine said the Fresno Yosemite International Airport has 11,700 solar panels on 9.5 acres.

According to the magazine, the solar farm's anticipated savings to the airport are $13 million in the first 20 years of operation.

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