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Iowa City Municipal Airport pursuing solar array project
Project would offset airport’s major electrical uses
IOWA CITY — The Iowa City Municipal Airport is looking to use solar power to offset some of the airport’s major electrical uses.
The solar power generating project is in the early stages, but it’s been a topic of discussion for the airport commission in previous years. Now, the funds to move forward with the project are available.
Director Michael Tharp said the airport will be using funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law passed last year, which sets aside money for airports, road maintenance, water quality and more. There are various eligible uses, including for environmental projects.
“We're trying to focus those funds on putting a solar power array here where we can run or at least offset some of the workings of the runway lighting, the terminal building, the maintenance shop and the research lab where we have our high electrical uses,” Tharp said.
The airport commission at its Dec. 8 meeting selected engineering and planning firm Crawford, Murphy & Tilly (CMT) to serve as the consultant for this project. CMT has offices in nine states and has experience working with airports that have had the same goal as Iowa City.
The project cost and annual savings will be revisited as work with CMT begins, Tharp said. Before working with CMT, the airport anticipated the project to cost $400,000 to $500,000, with annual savings of $30,000 to $40,000.
“With CMT on board, we’ll be taking a second look at the sizing of the system, the location of panels due to net metering, and other rules/restrictions, and confirming the total estimated costs so we can move forward with the project,” Tharp said.
The solar installation will likely be a combination of ground mounted and rooftop mounted panels.
Tharp said the airport is using the Johnson County solar arrays as an example. The county has solar arrays that generate electricity for some of its government buildings. The county in 2015 was the first Iowa county to enter into a power purchase agreement and has since initiated additional agreements and purchased solar arrays outright.
The infrastructure funds will allow the airport to purchase the solar power system outright, which is less of a risk to the airport than entering a 20-year purchase agreement, Tharp said.
The airport will work through the funding process and getting approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to have the solar installation.
The plan for now is to use 2023 to get through regulatory approval processes and have the project go out to bid in 2024, Tharp said.
The Dubuque Regional Airport and Washington Municipal Airport are both intending to use funds from the infrastructure bill for solar projects.
The Dubuque airport is looking at a $1.5 million solar project to power its terminal building. The array is expected to save the airport about $80,000 per year in energy costs, the Telegraph Herald reported earlier this month. Construction is anticipated to begin in spring 2024.
The Washington airport will use $130,000 to install a new solar power system in its general aviation terminal.
Tharp said it’s becoming more common nationwide for airports to install solar arrays, but it also has to do with state law and each state’s regulations.
Some states have airports that have created larger solar power installations, Tharp said. In Iowa, the airport can build up to what the meter is running, Tharp said.
The solar project also aligns with the Iowa City’s climate action goals. Tharp said the city will be involved in the project and potentially use climate fund dollars as part of the local match.
“It's a feather in everybody's cap that we are committed to taking actions and doing things that will help the environment,” Tharp said. “I know that's one of the city council's priorities and has been for a while … and this project could be one of those bigger ones that helps those goals.”
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