However, California's solar gains aren't limited merely to the consumer
sector. Private businesses are also flocking to solar power. Among
these new adopters is Fresno-Yosemite International (FYI). The airport,
which served 1.38 million passengers last year, is situated on 2,150 acres and
mostly deals in private air traffic.
The airport had a problem. A large amount of the land
around it was sitting idle and undeveloped while the airport was struggling
to deal with soaring energy costs. Meanwhile, the airport was
launching a trial program to deploy solar panels on the roof of an expansion
building which was to house rental car services.
Suddenly the idea clicked -- solar power could fuel the airport's power
needs. Not stopping with the rooftops, FYI expanded its solar offerings,
placing panels over the equivalent of seven football fields worth of undeveloped
land. Now, with its construction complete for the time being, finishing
last month, FYI has found itself in a new position -- green leader.
Becoming the leading green airport was surprisingly common sense, according to
local government officials. Alan Autry, Fresno Mayor states, "So you
take land that's basically idle and useless and turning it into 11-million
dollars worth of taxpayer's savings, that's a good day for Fresno."
The transformation yielded a 2 MW solar facility which was finally put to use
last month. Now it powers the airport's lighting and the communications
tower. While modest compared
to some dedicated solar plants, the FYI's installation is a perfect example
of a business putting solar to use. Says Russ Widmar, FYI Aviation
Director, "This will for us produce about 40-percent of our annual
electrical requirement. Just on the air quality side, 170,000 barrels of
fossil fuel a year that we will not use."
The city, which encouraged the effort, donated 20 unused acres to the cause,
but did not pay any money to help set up the project, feeling that existing tax
subsidies provided enough support. Without handouts the airport was able
to set up clever business deals to make the project financially viable.
Frank Smith, Worldwater and Solar CEO, the company handling the installation
explains, "We were paid, Worldwater and Solar Technologies, 16-million
dollars but we weren't paid by the airport. We were paid by a third party
financial firm. They will then sell the power to the airport at a fixed rate
for the next 20 years."
During the twenty years fossil fuel costs will likely continue to rise, but the
cost of the solar power won't. Further, the project efforts were buoyed
by generous support from corporate partner Pacific Gas and Electric Company
(PG&E), who donated $5.5M USD in rebates to the project to help promote an
environmentally friendly image.
Greg Pruett, PG&E Corporate Relations VP, states, "It is really a
pioneering, cutting-edge project. It puts really Fresno out in front of most
other municipalities in being leading in embracing renewables."
The Mayor Autry also adds that the plant is not just a matter of promoting
green efforts, but also a matter of national security. Says Mr. Autry,
"All of these so-called little bits that people are doing around the
country are gonna add up to a whole lot in terms of our dependence on foreign
Thanks to the success of the program, many airports around the country with
spare land are looking to adopt similar installations. Worldwater and
Solar is currently working on a smaller similar project with Denver's airport,
inspired by the success.