Airport could get 100% power from solar, but wants to lease land

Indianapolis Airport to install 10 MW system, sell the power
Amanda H. Miller

Feb 23, 2011

The Indianapolis International Airport is seeking development proposals for a solar farm that would be the largest in the state.

The airport has publicly expressed a desire to have a company install 10 megawatts of solar photovoltaic panels on 30 acres of land in its airfield that isn’t suitable for other development, said spokeswoman Susan Sullivan.

The $1.1 billion airport just opened in 2008 and is built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards. According to Indianapolis Power & Light, the facility uses about 10 megawatts of power, Sullivan said. That means a successful bid from a solar developer would completely offset the airport’s electricity use.

The airport board is not looking to make the capital investment itself or even use the energy generated from a solar array on its property.

“The Indianapolis Airport Authority would not own the system,” Sullivan said. “We would look to the private sector for this investment.”

The airport would lease land to a solar developer that would then sell its power to the local utility, Indianapolis Light & Power, through the grid.

A 10-megawatts system would be the biggest in Indiana and would generate enough energy to power 6,000 homes, according to airport publicity for the project.

The Indianapolis Star reported and Sullivan confirmed that the move is part of the airport board’s new resolution to generate $190 million over the next 30 years from hundreds of acres of undeveloped land it owns.

If the airport authority is successful, it won’t be the first in the country to profit from leasing lands not suitable for other development to solar companies for clean energy production. Both Denver, Colo., and Fresno, Calif., airports have both already installed revenue-generating solar projects.

“The solar farm is just a small component of the overall five-year strategic plan,” Sullivan wrote in an e-mail. “Now that the Midfield project is complete, IAA is moving away from a focus on capital construction of the airport complex and moving toward increased operational efficiency, excellence in customer service, and growth of aviation and non-aviation revenue.

“Specifically, we’ve put in place systemic changes to maximize our land, facilities, and other assets through developing new sources of revenue, like that we expect to realize through the construction of a solar farm,” she said.