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Airport could land second solar-energy farm

November 21, 2012

The Indianapolis Airport Authority is in talks that could lead to a second solar farm at Indianapolis International Airport.

Discussions are taking place even as the initial solar farm has yet to get off the ground near the Interstate 70 airport exit.

Airport officials won’t identify the firm or firms that would build a second solar farm.

“Negotiations are still in progress,” said authority spokesman Carlo Bertolini.

The authority did not invite requests for proposals that might give details about  the second farm, and cryptically describe it as “more of a prospective tenant situation.”

The second farm would consist of 60 acres, or the same amount as the first solar farm announced last year.

“Regarding the location, the plan is that the second farm would be in the same vicinity as the first, but the boundaries have not been finalized,” Bertolini added.

The first farm, announced in September 2011, has yet to show any signs of construction. ET Energy Solutions, a local consortium leasing 60 acres from the airport authority for the project,  said last year that the 41,000 photovoltaic panels were expected to be operating in mid-2012.

Information posted on ET Energy's website said the farm had been expanded to 75 acres and construction would begin in early winter, pending approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. The IURC granted approval Sept. 5.

Airport officials referred questions to Kurt Schneider, vice president of ET Energy partner Johnson-Melloh Solutions, a local mechanical contractor.

Schneider did not return phone calls seeking comment about the delay for the proposed $35 million project, but sent an e-mail late Wednesday morning saying that construction would start March 31, and that financing for the project was not an issue.

Other ET partners are local companies Schmidt Associates and Telamon Corp.

The first farm is expected to become one of the largest airport solar farms in the country, capable of producing more than 15 million kilowatt hours of power, or enough to power 1,200 average houses for a year.

The power would be sold to Indianapolis Power & Light, with the airport authority expecting to collect about $316,000 annually in lease payments through its agreement with ET Energy.

It’s likely a second farm also would generate substantial revenue for the airport authority, which is itching to find additional non-airline revenues as passenger traffic remains sluggish.

A second solar farm operator might be under pressure to secure a contract sooner than later.

IPL said in July that, beginning next March, it would throttle back on buying power from new customers that generate it from renewable sources. The utility will honor existing contracts for the duration of their terms.

IPL pays from 7.5 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity from large wind turbines to 24 cents per kilowatt hour for solar projects. That’s effectively more than its own cost of generating power.

The utility noted at the time that ratepayers shoulder the cost of buying renewable power, and paying more for renewable power would put additional pressure on them at a time when rates are expected to rise due to new federal environmental compliance rules. 

 


 

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