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Tampa Electric to launch largest solar project at TPA

(September 30, 2014) - Tampa International Airport and Tampa Electric Co. announced Tuesday an agreement that will bring a new source of energy to the Tampa Bay community: Solar power.

 At an afternoon press conference in the airport’s main terminal, Tampa Electric President Gordon Gillette, TPA CEO Joe Lopano and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn celebrated Tampa Electric’s plan to install a canopy of solar panels on the top floor of the airport’s south Economy Parking Garage. The three were joined by Hillsborough County Aviation Authority Board members Robert Watkins and Gary Harrod, who along with the rest of the board voted Thursday to approve the lease agreement with Tampa Electric.

“I’m excited about this,” Board member Sam Rashid said after the vote. “This is a great thing. It’s a really progressive movement towards something that everybody should utilize, particularly in Florida.”

Board member Victor Crist added that the project also comes with the added value of branding the Tampa Bay community as forward thinking.

“This is the airport’s contribution to that,” he said. 

Watkins echoed those sentiments, saying that the project shows the airport is a leader in the community on sustainability. He pointed out that the airport is also assisting Mayor Buckhorn’s efforts to reduce the amount of reclaimed water disposed of in Tampa Bay by using it for irrigation and in airport cooling towers. 

“All those initiatives make our community much more attractive,” Watkins said. 

At 2 megawatts, the project will be Tampa Electric’s largest solar photovoltaic installation and its first foray into utility-scale solar power. The solar panels will produce enough electricity to power up to 250 homes. 

“Tampa Electric believes in the promise of renewable energy like solar and we believe it will play a bigger and bigger role in our energy future,” Gillette said at Tuesday’s press conference. “We also believe in this community. We are very proud of our partnership with Tampa International Airport and we look forward to continuing our partnerships with the airport, the city and the county as we go forward to improve our community.

The Authority vote Thursday approved the 25-year initial lease agreement with Tampa Electric Co. The utility will pay the Authority $15,000 a year to lease the space. The canopy design creates covered parking and ensures no parking spots are eliminated. 

Tampa Electric will own the solar PV array and the electricity it produces will go to the grid to benefit all 700,000 Tampa Electric customers, including the airport. Construction is scheduled to begin in a few months and is expected to be complete by the end of 2015.

“We are moving ahead,” Lopano said. “Sustainability is very important to our enterprise and it has been for a very long time.”

In 2012, the airport received a $607,500 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to develop a Sustainable Management Plan. The recently completed plan outlines 33 potential sustainability initiatives and design criteria as the airport moves forward with a major expansion that includes a 1.3-mile Automated People Mover connecting a new rental car center to the main terminal. The $943 million program, Lopano pointed out, will remove 2.7 million cars from airport roadways each year. That will result in an annual reduction in carbon emissions of 1,617 tons, or the carbon removed from the atmosphere by 1,202 acres of forest. 

The airport’s sustainability efforts won’t stop there, Lopano said.

“Our plan is to reduce potable water use, reduce the amount of waste we generate and move to a paperless environment,” Lopano said. “We’ll also consider energy efficiency in construction and life-cycle of products in procurement, enhance our employee wellness program and promote our recycling programs.”

As a first step toward meeting those goals, the Board on Thursday approved an agreement with the City of Tampa that will increase the airport’s use of reclaimed water from 70 million gallons a year to 122 million gallons by directing it to cooling towers at Airsides A, C and E. It currently is only used in the Airside F cooling tower. 

At Tuesday’s press conference, Buckhorn called the reclaimed water and solar agreements “a no-brainer” for the board and for the city.

“This is a great example of making partnerships work by using solar energy and using reclaimed water to make this airport the envy of the nation,” Buckhorn said. “By the time we get done with this billion-dollar expansion, there is no airport in the world that is going to be more user-friendly or more environmentally friendly than Tampa Intl Airport.”

“Our best days are yet ahead of us, and with this team that we have behind us and with the amazing staff, we’re absolutely going to get there,” Buckhorn continued. “This is a big win for all of us.”