Airport Solar Farms Improve Air Quality, Reduce Emissions

An image of solar panels absorbing sunlight.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a solar farm coming to Washington Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia. One of the D.C. region’s airports may soon feature one of the largest solar facilities in Northern Virginia.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is conducting a study with Dominion Energy Virginia on the feasibility of building a large-scale, 100-megawatt solar energy project at the airport, according to a press release from PR Newswire. Ultimately, the State Corporation Commission or the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will determine if Dulles is a good site for the solar project.

If it’s found to be a feasible site, Dulles and Dominion Energy expect the solar project to be completed by 2023.

The Dulles solar farm would take up approximately 1,200 acres and connect to Dominion Energy’s transmission line, which is already located at the airport. The solar project could power 25,000 homes at peak output.

“Partnering with Dominion Energy on this important project will give us the data and tools we need to determine the role that solar energy can play at a major international airport now and in the future,” said Mike Stewart, airport manager at Dulles International Airport, in a press release. “This project fits well with the Airports Authority's goal of enhancing the sustainability and environmental performance of our facilities.”

Dominion Energy signed a sublease with the Airport’s Authority to begin feasibility studies. The company, one of the nation’s largest producers and transporters of energy, filed an application on Sept. 18 with PJM, the transmission organization in charge of coordinating the electric grid in 13 states and the District of Columbia. This will enable Dominion Energy to connect the Dulles solar farm to the transmission grid.

Dulles isn’t the only American airport looking into solar and renewable energy. In June, Tennessee’s Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport became the first airport in the United States to run entirely on solar power, according to an article in Forbes. The 2.64-megawatt solar farm has 10,000 solar panels on 12 acres. It was built with $5 million in Federal Aviation Administration grants, which help airports improve air quality and reduce emissions. The investment will be earned back in 20 years or less, according to the article.

Indianapolis International Airport had the largest solar farm in the country, with 76,000 panels on 151 acres. The solar farm generates 31.7 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year, which can power about 3,200 homes.

Solar panels can also be found at Boston Logan International Airport in Massachusetts, Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, Hawaii, Denver International Airport in Colorado, Indianapolis International Airport in Indiana, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in Minnesota and Tampa International Airport in Florida.

As the price of solar panels and solar energy systems continues to drop, these may be the first of many U.S. airports that incorporate renewable energy into flying passengers around the world.

About the Author

Marlena Chertock

Freelance Writer

Marlena Chertock is a former editorial intern at Electrical Contractor magazine who now writes for the magazine as a freelance journalist. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, Marketplace, NBC News, News21, WTOP and The Gazette. Contact...

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