Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport is going solar, joining a growing number of commercial airfields across the country that are putting up panels and plugging into green energy sources to reduce power costs and put a dent in greenhouse gas emissions.
Under a project in the works since 2014 and authorized by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, airport officials expect next spring to begin installation work on a solar panel canopy system over a newly expanded long-term parking lot. The system is expected to supply power for all of the airportâ€™s needs, save for the tenants, including concessionaires such as the Sky Lounge Steakhouse & Sushi Bar.
Forefront Power, based in San Francisco, will own, operate and maintain the solar system and sell the energy it produces back to the airport at a fixed rate of about 13 cents per kilowatt hour. The rates the airport currently pays vary, but specifics were not immediately available Tuesday, airport officials said. The agreement with ForeFront is expected to save the airport $3.1 million in power costs over the 20-year term and reduce the facilityâ€™s carbon footprint by nearly 1,000 metric tons â€” the equivalent of about 2.5 million miles traveled by an average vehicle.
The county experiences about 11 million miles traveled per day, generating roughly 6,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the countyâ€™s transportation authority. Supervisors said they hoped the project would be an early step toward other green-focused county infrastructure with greater reductions in the future.
â€śItâ€™s our efforts to be very serious about taking on climate change,â€ť said Supervisor Shirlee Zane. â€śWe need to, now more than ever, and this is the way we should go.â€ť
The installation is proposed for the long-term parking lot, including 450 spaces, just east of the terminal. Utility hookups were included in construction there in anticipation of the planned solar panel canopy.
The airport wonâ€™t spend any money toward the estimated $3.5 million cost of the solar canopy. With its focus of available funds on a $25 million 30,000-square-foot expansion that should see work begin in January, the airport would be unable to build what other cities already have without the agreement. The expansionâ€™s completion date is set for at the end of 2022.
The building wave of airports with solar panels to help bring in renewable energy â€” now into the dozens â€” spans the entire nation, from Honolulu to Denver and Indianapolis to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Santa Rosaâ€™s regional airstrip is one of the next.
â€śThereâ€™s many airports that have solar now. Itâ€™s become more mainstream,â€ť saidairport Manager Jon Stout, Sonoma County airport Manager. â€śWith the terminal project and the gate expansion, we just donâ€™t have the capital to be able to invest in it.â€ť
The airport has the ability to buy the solar infrastructure from the operator for fair market value after the fifth year of the deal, however. The offer stands through the life of the contract, dropping to an estimated $500,000 price tag by the end of the agreement, and the county can also choose to renew the deal for five more years when it ends in July 2041.
The solar panels and other components have about a 20-year life, however. Board Chairman David Rabbitt said he was concerned about a large, looming capital cost to overhaul the solar canopy once the deal expires if the county decided to buy the system at that time.