Sacramento Airport's new solar farm to produce 30% of its electricity

Published in KCRA Channel 3

Sacramento Airport's new solar farm to produce 30% of its electricity

Sacramento International Airport has flipped the switch to the largest solar farm of any airport in the state.

The 20,000-acre facility is replacing an overflow parking lot outside Terminal A.

With more than 23,000 panels, it will produce 30 percent of the airport’s electricity — more than any other airport in the U.S., according to spokesperson Laurie Slothower.

The airport projects it will result in an average $850,000 savings each year over 25 years.

The airport had no costs for construction. The capital investment was provided by NRG, which financed construction by Borrego Solar, according to Slothower.

NRG owns and operates the facility and will sell electricity to Sacramento International Airport at a reduced rate under a power purchase agreement.

SMF is in the process of paying off a 30-year, $1 billion debt it incurred with renovation, including building Terminal B.

“It’s a balancing act,” State Senator Richard Pan said. “Because when we put more money in, sometimes it makes the fees for airlines go up.”

Sacramento was once home to the most expensive airport in the country for airlines, making it difficult to expand with new destinations and flights.

“We still have a good amount of debt, but it’s manageable,” Sacramento County Airport Director John Wheat said. “We’re no longer the most expensive. Right now, we are competitive with California airports, but still high compared to the United States.”

The airport topped out at a cost of $18 per passenger. Over the past recent years, it has been able to reduce the cost to airlines to $13.55 per passenger, according to Wheat.

SMF reports 2017 will set a new record in passenger travel for the airport.

“A lot of things we have been doing are now paying off to the community,” Wheat said. “And the community is responding very appropriately with filling up those seats.”

The airport’s success has implications beyond the environment. At a time when Sacramento is billing itself as a destination city for big businesses — like Amazon and a Major League Soccer franchise — a main factor in decision making comes down to the city’s airport.

“When we are trying to recruit businesses from across the world to Sacramento, many of them are coming to Sacramento for the first time through this airport,” Pan explained. “So that’s why it is so important that when people come to Sacramento, they get to recognize what a special place Sacramento is, and that’s why they want to move their businesses here. That’s why they want to grow jobs here.”

The solar farm’s contract with NRG is for 25 years, but the facility will be able to generate power for the next 35 to 45 years.