The Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport had two solar power systems installed onsite and made them live in February. Over the course of their electricity-generating life spans, they will offset thousands of tons of CO2 emissions and potentially save millions of dollars.
Sonoma County has been particularly hard by wildfires in the last several years. These natural disasters occur with some regularity on their own, but many believe the latest ones are connected to the effects of climate change. The country has been experiencing higher temperatures and droughts as well. As a result of these challenges, Sonoma County’s government set a goal for the county to be carbon neutral by 2030. The airport solar power installations fit within the carbon-free plan. (The California state government has a goal for California to be operating on clean, carbon-free electricity by 2045.)
Jon Stout, the Sonoma Airport Manager, and Rachel McLaughlin, ForeFront Power’s Vice President of Sales & Marketing, provided some insights to CleanTechnica about the new solar power systems. (The last three answers are from ForeFront.)
Why was Sonoma County interested in having a solar power system installed at the Sonoma airport?
Sonoma County set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2030. Procuring the solar energy portfolio at the Airport and Fleet Operations locations while contributing to the County’s sustainability goal and environmental leadership also protecting against utility price volatility.
How long did the installation take, and what are some of the key benefits?
Sonoma County selected ForeFront Power to develop, finance, and construct the solar energy portfolio at no up-front cost to the County through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), executed in late 2019. This immediately kicked off design and procurement of the Sonoma County solar portfolio. Construction began in 2021 and the system was completed in January 2022.
Through the PPA, the County is paying a fixed, below-market rate for energy, providing budget certainty, and avoiding ongoing utility rate that increases so many are facing in California.
ForeFront Power will continue to operate and maintain the systems, ensuring they are performing optimally to produce the guaranteed maximum amount of renewable electricity, allowing the airport staff to focus on providing a first class travel experience.
Combined, the 884 kW system at the Sonoma County Airport and the 79 kW system at the Sonoma County Fleet Building will generate over 1,495,500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of renewable energy per year, offsetting 1,060 metric tons of CO2 emissions, which is equivalent to removing 230 passenger vehicles from the road each year.
In addition, the next time travelers fly out of the Sonoma County Airport and park in the long term parking lot, the solar canopy system will provide them with shaded parking to shield their vehicle during the day as well as enhanced under-canopy LED lighting, making it easier to find their cars at night.
Why was it decided to install the many solar panels on the parking canopy?
ForeFront Power designed the solar canopy to optimize use of available space at the Sonoma County Airport’s Long Term Parking Lot B and convert it to clean energy infrastructure with the added benefit of shaded parking for airport visitors.
How many years do you expect the solar power system to generate electricity and how much could the system save in utility costs?
In the first year alone, the 963 kW solar portfolio will provide the County with over $60,000 in energy savings. Over the next 20 years the solar portfolio is expected to generate nearly 30 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) with an estimated total savings of $3,169,945 during that same time period.
Is the solar power system paired with energy storage currently, or will it be?
The solar portfolio is not paired with energy storage and there are currently no plans to install energy storage.
Are there EV chargers at the airport, and if so, are any of them powered by the solar arrays?
Though not powered by the solar arrays, Sonoma County Airport offers expanded ChargePoint electric vehicle (EV) charging stations located in both the long-term parking lot and in front of the Airport terminal, and Tesla Supercharger Stations in the long-term parking lot. (The non-Tesla chargers are not directly connected to the system, however, they are included in the meter portfolio that make up the net metering group.)
How do you approach designing a large solar power system, and what are the first steps for the installation?
Immediately following contract execution, ForeFront Power begins procuring materials, finalizing designs, and permitting. Because ForeFront is product-agnostic, we choose the materials that best suit project and customer needs.
Site diligence, engineering, and financing are the first steps for kicking off a large solar power system, followed by permitting and interconnection reviews. Construction includes procuring materials, schedule site activity, and installation. Upon mechanical completion, the interconnection and commissioning of the system are coordinated with the utility.
What considerations do you have when doing a parking canopy installation vs. for rooftops?
Because canopy construction often takes place in parking areas, the ForeFront Power Development team is mindful of potential inconveniences. Plans for lighting, ADA compliance, and other codes are accounted for when planning an installation.
Was this airport installation your first at an airport? If so, were they any new challenges, or situations you encountered and addressed?
ForeFront Power has completed multiple airport installations including projects at LaGuardia Airport in New York and the Ames Municipal Airport in Iowa.
One of the main challenges for ForeFront Power was compliance with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) glare policy made effective on May 11, 2021. The policy required ForeFront to conduct a sufficient analysis to support the assertion that the Sonoma County Airport solar energy system would not result in ocular impacts.
Image credits: ForeFront Power
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