Jan. 15–Mitchell International Airport could sprout a solar farm, with rows of solar panels helping pay the airport’s energy costs, under a plan to be reviewed next week by a County Board committee.
Milwaukee County would look for a private firm to help develop the airport solar installation, under the proposal by County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic. She is seeking approval for a study into what it would take to get such an operation up and running.
The County Board’s Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee takes up the issue Wednesday.
Though her resolution is short on details, Dimitrijevic said she envisions a Mitchell solar farm becoming the largest such installation in the state.
The idea was borrowed from solar farms set up by government elsewhere, including rooftop systems in Monona and Dubuque, Iowa, and a ground system at the Indianapolis Airport.
The Indianapolis project includes 44,000 panels, cost about $35 million to $40 million and is on 75 acres at the city’s largest airport. The farm was privately developed and is expected to generate about $315,000 a year in rent.
The Indianapolis solar farm bills itself as the largest of its type in the U.S. It generated 140 construction jobs and 12 permanent maintenance jobs, according to the Indianapolis Airport Authority.
Dimitrijevic’s resolution calls for study of potential sites for an airport solar farm at Mitchell, as well as the prospects for harnessing solar power from rooftop installations on county buildings. She’s calling for doing a national search for an independent solar energy consultant to conduct the feasibility study.
The airport seems a likely site for solar panel installation because of large areas of open space that won’t ever be developed, Dimitrijevic said.
Use of airport property also would bring Federal Aviation Administration requirements into play. The FAA published a 162-page guide on solar developments that noted the agency’s approval is required to ensure installations don’t obstruct airspace.
Among the issues to be reviewed are whether the solar project meets environmental rules, whether it would “penetrate airspace,” interfere with communications equipment and be consistent with airport activities.
Concerns about glare from solar panels hindering pilots also are addressed by the FAA rules.
Federal, state and local permits may be required for an airport solar farm.
Dimitrijevic said she was working with Gordie Bennett, the county’s sustainability director, on the airport solar plan. Bennett said he had no further details beyond those included in Dimitrijevic’s resolution.
“I’m learning on the fly,” Bennett said.
Dimitrijevic said the airport solar farm could be an extension of the county’s “Greenprint” program promoting energy efficiency. The Greenprint policy was advanced by Dimitrijevic and adopted by the County Board in 2007.
The county has done energy upgrades of the courthouse and 81 other buildings and installed solar panels on six county structures, including an admissions booth at the zoo. County energy use has declined by 10% since the Greenprint program started, according to an August report to the County Board.
Dimitrijevic sought to emphasize environmental themes when she announced her candidacy for an east side Assembly seat last November. Three others also have announced their plans to run for the seat now held by state Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee). They are criminal defense attorney Dan Adams, labor lawyer Sarah Geneen and state legislative assistant Jonathan Brostoff.