A 'beacon of green light': Chattanooga Airport marks completion of solar farm

An airplane flies into Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport in the background as part of Lovell Field's solar farm is seen near the runway.

It's good for our environment and our bottom line.

photo Terry Hart speaks at the Grand Opening of the Solar Farm at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Wednesday at Wilson Air.

Calling Chattanooga's airport a "beacon of green light," officials Wednesday marked completion of a solar farm making it the nation's first airport to produce enough energy for its daily power needs.

"We're a model for other airports," said Airport Authority Chairman Dan Jacobson, who challenged cities to use environmentally friendly solar power.

The $10 million, three-phase project that started at the airport in 2010 created a 2.64-megawatt solar farm. The energy is sold to TVA and then taken off of the airport's EPB power bill.

Jacobson said the solar array makes enough electricity to power 160,000 light bulbs, for example.

"It's good for our environment and our bottom line," he told about 40 people who gathered at the airport to officially mark the finish of the work.

Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive, said Federal Aviation Administration grants funded 90 percent of the project, with Lovell Field paying the remaining $1 million.

He said the revenue generated by the solar farm helps the airport to keep other fees lower.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke noted that CBS News termed the city's air the dirtiest in America in 1969.

"We changed practices and policies so we can change our future," he said, adding that the city will start building a new 3 megawatt solar array near the wastewater treatment plant this fall.

photo An airplane sits on the tarmac at Wilson Air Wednesday as another plane approaches on final at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Wednesday. Terry Hart spoke to a small crowd in the lobby of Wilson Air during ceremony for the Grand Opening of the Solar Farm.

Hart said the first phase came online in 2011 and it exceeded expectations, prompting airport officials to visit the FAA for the second installation and, still again, for the third array.

He said the solar farm was placed off of Jubilee Drive on the west side of the airfield due to height restrictions. Hart cited the efforts of John Naylor, the airport's soon-to-retire vice president of planning and development, saying he has "a drive for solar."

Jacobson said the airport has other environmental initiatives, such as a "green" friendly Wilson Air facility and electric car chargers in the parking lot. He said the airport is "a leader in sustainability."

The airport's solar farm is one of the largest in Hamilton County.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee plans to start installing the first of about 10,000 solar panels next month on top of the company's five major office and parking facilities at its Chattanooga headquarters.

The $10 million project will be capable of generating 4.3 megawatts of electricity and will be the second biggest solar array in Chattanooga - behind only the $30 million solar farm installed at the Volkswagen assembly plant in 2012 to generate up to 9.5 megawatts of electricity.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

photo Lovell Field's Federal Aviation Administration control tower is seen, top center, over dozens of panels on the Solar Farm at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Wednesday.