Chattanooga Airport nearly 90 percent powered by solar energy

BY THE NUMBERS• 306,206 - Gallons of gas needed to generate equal amount of power from the airport's solar farm to date• 2,719 - Estimated tons of carbon dioxide not put into the environment due to the solar farm• $205,000 - Projected annual energy savings to airport due to solar farm• $7 million - Federal grants awarded to airport to build solar farmsSource: Chattanooga Airport

Already Tennessee's leader among airports using the sun to cut energy costs, Lovell Field's newest crop of panels at its growing solar farm is now helping to defray up to 85 percent of its power expenses.

"I'd like it to be 100 percent," said Chattanooga Airport chief Terry Hart.

Few airports nationally are tapping the sun to cut their power costs as much as Chattanooga, according to officials.

With the help of $4 million in Federal Aviation Administration grants, Chattanooga Airport installed 4,000 solar panels on the west side of its main runway in 2012. Last year, the airport garnered another $3 million in FAA money, allowing it to recently expand its solar farm to 2.1 megawatts.

Annual energy savings at the airport are projected at $205,000, officials said.

The power generated by the solar farm goes directly onto the power grid. Chattanooga Airport receives reimbursements from TVA for the electricity generated, and the savings are going toward the airport's operating expenses.

Phase one involved installing 3,948 panels with 60 cells each, generating 255 watts per panel. Phase two added 3,542 panels with 72 cells each, generating 310 watts per panel. The airport is evaluating opportunities for phase three, officials said.

The solar farm now covers 7.5 acres, according to the airport.

"Through the solar farm, we are able to simultaneously act on our longstanding commitments to sustainable development," said Hart.

He said the solar farm helps keep the airport's operating fees reasonable and benefits its fliers.

photo A small plane comes in for a landing on the far side of rows of photovoltaic cells at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport on Wednesday morning. The airport is preparing for a second phase of solar panel installation, which will more than double its current 1 megawatt facility.

"We will continue to seek out investments such as these that are directly beneficial," Hart said.

The solar farm fits with other sustainable projects at the airport. For example, its new general aviation facility nearby on the west side became the nation's first facility of its kind to receive the platinum badge from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

Dan Jacobson, the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority chairman, said that sustainability represents "our civic duty to improve the quality of life for the community in which we all live, work and play."

Recently, however, City Councilman Larry Grohn questioned the LEED designation, saying that savings aren't always justified by the expense to gain the certification.

Jacobson, a BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee executive who oversaw the building of the Chattanooga-based insurer's new home office, said the company has garnered savings from using LEED on that project.

"I still believe that the best built-environment cookie cutter is LEED," he said. "It's a money machine."

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.

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