Chattanooga Airport eyes growing its solar farm

Chattanooga Airport eyes growing its solar farm

April 25th, 2017 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Staff file photo by Jake Daniels/A sign designates rows of photovoltaic cells at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport's solar farm. The solar array could get larger if airport officials approve another phase.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

“We'll move forward if we're successful in working primarily with the FAA and partners TVA and EPB. We're still working on that.”
Terry Hart, Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport chief executive

Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport's solar farm, already paying 90 percent of Lovell Field's electricity bill, could grow by about a third.

Airport officials said they're looking at building another phase to its solar farm, pushing it to a little more than 3 megawatts in size.

"It's keeping costs down so we don't have to raise fees," said Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive.

The power generated by the solar farm goes directly into the power grid, officials said. The airport receives reimbursements from TVA for the electricity generated, and the savings go toward the airport's operating expenses.

Hart said the latest and third phase, if the airport moves ahead, would go adjacent to its existing farm located next to the main runway on the west side of the air field.

The cost is estimated at about $4 million, he said. Ninety percent of the first two phases were paid for by Federal Aviation Administration grants, Hart said. The remainder came out of the passenger facility charge the airport tags on air travelers.

"We'll move forward if we're successful in working primarily with the FAA and partners TVA and EPB," he said. "We're still working on that."

If constructed, the airport's newest phase still won't give Lovell Field bragging rights for the biggest solar array in Chattanooga. In 2012, Volkswagen raised a $30 million, 9.5 megawatt solar farm next to its assembly plant.

VW officials said then it was to provide up to 12.5 percent of the plant's power.

Hangar offices

The Lovell Field solar farm was included on the airport's 2018 fiscal year list of capital spending along with construction of new office space to be attached to the airport's newest hangar built in 2015 on the west side of the runway.

John Naylor, the airport's vice president of planning and development, said seven offices and three shop areas are to be constructed in the project costing more than $750,000.

He said Wilson Construction Group will build the project for $676,000. Naylor said 95 percent of that cost will come from a state grant while the airport will pick up the remainder.

Naylor said that two tenants will take two of the shops while two or three offices already have been spoken for.

Estimates are that the addition will take in about $33,000 a year in revenue while costing the airport about $37,000 to build, he said.

"In a little over a year we've recouped our investment," Naylor said.

But, Airport Authority member Farzana Khaleel at a meeting of the panel raised a question about net operating income for the airport concerning the project.

"Every time we do a capital project, we need to do an investment analysis," she said, noting it would look at the cost and not just what the airport is funding. "It's somebody's money that's being invested."

Khaleel said that while the Airport Authority is a not-for-profit entity, it doesn't just want to invest at a 2 percent to 3 percent rate of return.

"I don't think we have a very good return here," she said. "It's a very small return. Even though it's getting state funding, that doesn't mean spending anybody's money just like that. It's all taxpayer money."

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


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