Lindbergh Field, which added to its reputation as one of the most sustainable airports in the country following approval of a solar generating system for Terminal 2, plans to build another solar generator for its rental car facility that broke ground last year.
In March, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, the board that oversees Lindbergh Field, awarded a 20-year contract not to exceed $15 million to Borrego Solar Systems Inc. of San Diego to design, build and operate a 3-megawatt photovoltaic solar system.
Besides reducing the airport’s energy use, the project is estimated to save $4 million to $9 million over the contract’s 20 years, officials said.
It’s a project that’s been on the drawing boards ever since the airport began its $1 billion Green Build expansion at the western terminal, which was completed last summer, said Bob Bolton, the airport’s director of design and construction.
“The Green Build always was intended to have photovoltaic panels on the roof,” Bolton said. The terminal’s roof contains fitting devices that allow the easy installation of the panels, he said.
The 3-megawatt system is the largest nonresidential solar project in San Diego County, nearly three times larger than the current biggest installation, Borrego Solar said.
About 1 megawatt worth of solar panels will be installed on the terminal roof, and another 2 megawatts are to be installed at Terminal 2’s parking lot covering some 700 spaces.
Borrego Solar said it expects to break ground on the project by the middle of this year and that it should be completed late this year.
Locking in Costs for 2 Decades
As with most power-buying agreements, the one between the airport and Borrego Solar calls for the solar company to pay all the up-front costs for construction and operating the systems. Cameron Thorne, project director for Borrego Solar, was unable to say what those were, but other similar solar projects featured on the company’s website gave estimates in the millions of dollars.
By arranging this source of energy, Lindbergh Field was able to lock in part of its electrical costs for 20 years and at a lower rate, Bolton said.
“We know we’re getting [electrical energy] at less than what SDG&E is selling it to us today,” he said. “If we can lock in that rate for 20 years, it makes sense.”
The contract calls for the airport to be charged 14 cents per kilowatt-hour, which will be paid monthly, Bolton said. The 3 megawatts will provide about a fifth of the airport’s annual energy needs. By 2030, that need is estimated to double to 30 megawatts, he said.
The planned solar array at the airport’s rental car facility is 5 megawatts, which means the electricity purchase will range from $15 million to $25 million over a 20-year term, he said.
The request for proposals on that contract is scheduled to go out before the end of this year, preferably by summer, Bolton said.
The Terminal 2 solar system would have been operating now if not for the airport authority board’s decision to stop negotiating with a group that it awarded the solar contract to in February 2013.
The winning bid came from a three-company partnership consisting of Grid Solar LLC, Strata Solar LLC and Elecnor Belco Electric Inc. According to a staff report, in September 2013, one of the partners, Strata Solar, said it couldn’t continue negotiations with the authority “because of issues it had with Grid.”
Bolton, though he declined to elaborate on the conflict, said it resulted in the agency having to put the contract out to bid again. The delay took about a year and resulted in lost savings, he said.
Besides installing the solar panels to reduce costs and the airport’s energy usage, the airport authority is attempting to exceed certain energy-saving standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council for a high LEED — short for leadership in energy and environmental design — designation, Bolton said.
Formed in 1980, Borrego Solar has completed more than 1,000 solar installations nationally totaling more than 60 megawatts, according to its website.
The business, which moved from El Cajon to Mission Valley, told Inc. Magazine a few years ago it had annual revenue of $110 million in 2011, and 90 employees. It declined to update the revenue numbers.
Total employment at Borrego Solar was 110 full-time employees, 30 of whom work at the headquarters. The company contracts with local firms for most of the solar install projects.