Sacramento International Airport officials say they are within weeks of signing a deal to build two large solar farms on airport grounds that will allow them to save $15 million on energy bills over the next two decades.
The solar arrays could be up and running in 2016, and would be the largest solar project for any customer in the Sacramento Municipal Utility District area, consisting mainly of Sacramento County, officials said.
“It’s a huge deal,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association. “I applaud the airport.”
Power from the project would serve most airport operations, officials said. The amount generated, 7 megawatts, could power 1,000 homes. Aerojet Rocketdyne, a rocket manufacturer in Rancho Cordova, currently has the largest solar site in the area, producing 5.5 megawatts. Siemens, a rail manufacturer in south Sacramento, and Intel, a computer chip maker in Folsom, each have 2 megawatt solar farms.
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The airport solar deal would be the second major deal between the airport and a private developer this year. Airport officials are finalizing an agreement with a hotel developer to build a 135-room, $24 million hotel between the two terminal buildings. Sonnenblick Development of Los Angeles would pay the airport annual rents to operate the hotel. Work begins later this year, with a hotel opening date in 2017.
The deals are two of the airport’s highest-profile steps in its effort to increase revenue and reduce costs in hopes of making the facility more attractive to airlines and passengers. Airport officials say a better cost and revenue structure could encourage airlines to add flights into and out of Sacramento.
Airport officials say they will request permission in April from the county Board of Supervisors to sign a contract with a solar company to install, own and operate two 15-acre fields of solar photovoltaic panels, one at the north end of the airport, the other on the east side near the economy parking lot. The project would be built at no cost to the airport.
The vendor would sell electricity to the airport at a reduced rate. The company would be eligible for a solar development rebate under a program run by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, airport spokeswoman Laurie Slothower said. She said 14 solar companies responded to an airport request for proposals. She declined to name the solar company, saying county officials will disclose it in their upcoming report to the supervisors.
The airport pays $3.4 million a year for electricity. Slothower said the solar venture by itself should allow the airport to meet its goal of reducing its energy consumption 15 percent by 2020.
“We’re committed to managing the airport in an environmentally sustainable manner,” she said. “It protects the airport and our customers from rising energy costs, and contributes to the county’s overall efforts to increase renewable energy resources.”
The project includes adding information kiosks in both passenger terminals describing the airport’s solar program. Airport documents show that a solar glare hazards assessment and a habitat assessment will have to be done prior to construction.
Mike Moreno, a principal energy adviser for SMUD, said the airport project will help his utility district meet a state requirement to create 125 megawatts of solar power in its jurisdiction. SMUD is doing that mainly by offering financial incentives to customers.
The airport, an independently financed enterprise area of the county, is saddled with a billion dollars of debt, most of it from the 2011 construction of Terminal B and a jet concourse building. To meet its debt obligation, airport officials increased airline fees for use of the airport several years ago, making Sacramento one of the most expensive airports in the country for airlines to do business.
Those fees topped $18 per passenger, but have begun to drop and are now less than $17 per passenger, county airports director John Wheat said. Wheat said his goal is to reduce those rates to $14. The airport also is working on amending the set of financial incentives it offers for airlines to add flights, he said.
Airport officials are looking at automating some security functions in Terminal B to save an estimated $500,000 annually. The airport also is rebuilding its food outlets in Terminal A this year, including bringing in local providers Paesanos and Squeeze Inn.
“The hope is to bring Terminal A services up to the levels we have in Terminal B,” Wheat said. “We see that as a real boom in revenue base.”
Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.