Airport going solar with shade panels

Yuma International Airport has signed a contract for shaded parking, but it's about more than keeping the hot sun off parked vehicles.
The sunshades will actually be solar panels that will provide the electricity needed to keep the lights on and computers humming at the airport's passenger terminal.

Late last week, the Yuma County Airport Authority signed a contract with Blue Renewable Energy (Blue RE), LLC, an Arizona-based renewable energy holding company. The $4 million contract calls for the installation of shaded parking structures for the airport terminal's public parking lot that will also generate solar power.

"This fall, passengers at Yuma International Airport might notice an exciting new atmosphere as they walk into the terminal from the new sun-shaded parking lot ... almost electric, I'd say," announced Bill Gresser, president of the airport governing board.

"This project was originally conceived as a way to simply provide shaded parking for our customers," said Craig Williams, airport director. "Weve all experienced the furnace blast when our vehicles sit in the Arizona sun. This is another way we try to make our customers' travel experience to and from our airport just a little more comfortable."

The project will provide shade for the airport's main passenger parking lot - both long and short term - the employee parking area to the west of the terminal building and the rental car parking area.

Under the contract, Blue RE will provide financing and oversight of the construction of the auto parking shade structure, including the solar power system, explained Gen Grosse, airport corporate account manager. Blue RE will sell the generated power to the airport for 20 years, at which time the airport would own the structure.

She said that while the power would cost the airport only slightly less than electricity purchased from Arizona Public Service Co., the real savings will the result of the locked rate for the duration of the contract.

"The upward trend in energy costs is likely to continue and some projections indicate it could might even double or triple over the next two decades," said Grosse. "The new contract flattens the airports electric bill increases to less than one-half of 1 percent a year for the next 20 years."

Gross explained that the contract with Blue RE is part of the APS renewable energy program and includes a renewable energy credit purchase agreement with the utility.

Furthermore, she said, "the entire contract doesn't cost the airport or our passengers a penny" because Blue RE is financing the project.

The shade structures will consist of steel pillars supporting an array of the photovoltaic panels. The panels themselves are interconnected and adjust their tilt to follow the sun across the sky, always keeping their maximum exposure relationship to the time of day.

Blue REs proposed installation and maintenance features an all-Yuma team. Pilkington Commercial Co. will install the steel structure, Essco Wholesale Electric will provide the solar panels and other electrical components, and Mac Electric Inc. will service the equipment throughout the life of the project.

The solar panels being used are the familiar "black" photovoltaic panels that have been around for a long time, said Grosse. "The PV technology is a mature, reliable and dependable method of harnessing the sun's energy. The black panels absorb sunlight and do not reflect it back into the air."

That means they won't cause a glare problem for pilots at the airport, as other solar technology might, she said.

"This project is an example of our commitment to environmental responsibility and our efforts to become a 'green' airport," said Gresser. "We are proud to bring a project to the community that not only provides renewable energy to the airport and shaded parking for our customers, but also provides our local contractors with new high-tech, long-term jobs."
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