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Indy airport’s planned solar farm would be the largest in the state February 20, 2011

Posted by Laura Arnold in Uncategorized.
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Original story: http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011102190328
1:01 AM, Feb. 19, 2011  |  108Comments
Written by Bruce C. Smith
Solar panels like the ones planned at Indianapolis International Airport are already making money outside the Denver airport. / HYOUNG CHANG / The Denver Post

The warm rays of the sun may be the next big thing to make money for Indianapolis International Airport.

The airport is looking for a developer to build what would be the largest solar energy farm in the state on 30 acres of airport-owned land near the end of a runway.

It would generate 10 megawatts of electricity an hour — enough to power up to 6,000 homes — and that electricity would be sold to Indianapolis Power & Light. The airport would make money by leasing the property to a company that would build and operate the array of thousands of solar panels.

Other airports, including Denver and Fresno, Calif., have put money-making solar farms near runways on property not suitable for other types of developments.

It was not known how much revenue the solar farm would generate for the airport. The move is part of a larger plan approved by the airport Friday to generate more than $190 million over the next 30 years from hundreds of acres of its undeveloped land.

Industry experts estimate that a developer would have to spend $30 million to build the solar farm and that the equipment could generate electricity for at least 30 years.

“Solar power isn’t just a hippie dream anymore,” said Travis Murphy, who worked in the state’s renewable energy agency and now sells solar systems for Johnson Melloh Solutions. “Solar energy is not just something that environmentalists will do anymore, but it has become an opportunity for businesses and homes.”

The airport’s solar farm would send a highly visible message of public support for renewable energy, said Mark Hedegard, the airport’s senior business development director.

Thousands of solar panels — tinted black so the glare doesn’t blind airplane pilots — would be planted next to the airport’s front door. Millions of airplane passengers going to the Col. H. Weir Cook terminal building each year and millions more motorists on I-70 would pass the solar farm.

The site is tucked next to a long, circular ramp that is used by vehicles getting off the interstate and heading onto the road to the new terminal.

By far, it would be the biggest single solar power site in the state, according to Murphy. He said a survey last year conservatively estimated about 750 kilowatts of solar power had been built in Indiana.

An additional 1.76 megawatt array of 5,700 solar panels is being built on the roof of the Emmett J. Bean Federal Center, the military’s finance facility in Lawrence.

Andrew Crocox, project manger for electric contractor Ermco, said the Bean array should be making electricity for the IPL grid by April.

Several industry insiders said federal tax credits and accelerated depreciation on the equipment have sparked a national rush to invest in solar power, along with methane gas, wind turbines and other renewable sources of energy.

Locally, IPL’s interest in developing alternative energy sources has triggered a stampede of solar developers quietly swarming over Indianapolis the past year, looking for good sites and workable financing for solar power farms.

IPL was the first Indiana electric power company to receive approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to provide a rate incentive to solar energy suppliers to feed power into its network.

IPL’s website indicates it would pay up to 24 cents per kilowatt hour for solar energy, which is several times the rate paid for other forms of electricity. There also is a national market for energy generated from renewable sources. And some states — not including Indiana — set a quota of energy from renewable sources that their utilities are to sell.

IPL spokeswoman Crystal Livers-Powers said IPL’s goal is to generate electricity from all forms of renewable sources equal to 1 percent of its 2010 sales, or roughly 150,000 megawatt hours of power.

However, even as the solar power industry gets into gear, IPL has flashed a red light.

Livers-Powers said IPL has filed a notice with the IURC to temporarily suspend its offer of the rate normally paid for solar electricity “until we present changes that limit the participation in the program to existing IPL customers.”

IPL’s rate was so attractive that out-of-state solar developers have been considering very large projects that would have used all of its capacity for renewable-source electricity, leaving none for IPL’s current customers such as the airport.

She said, “We just want to give our current customers an opportunity to participate.”

Call Star reporter Bruce C. Smith at (317) 444-6081.

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