100 megawatt solar farm set to replace Californian regional airport in an environmental twist
Palmdale Regional Airport (photo: LAWA)
Tue 10 Mar 2008 – Following the cancellation of its sole commercial flight in December, Los Angeles/Palmdale Regional Airport has been closed due to lack of demand and the site may now be converted to a solar power farm capable of generating up to 100MW of clean energy. Situated 60 miles (96km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles, the 17,750-acre (7.2ha) Palmdale Regional had hoped to attract nearby residents wanting to avoid Los Angeles International, the airport having originally been slated as a global mega-hub back in the 1970s.
According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles city officials began buying land in Palmdale at a total cost of $100 million in the early 1970s for a global airport that could handle 100 million passengers a year and accommodate supersonic aircraft. However, no more than a small regional airport was built and about eight airlines have come and gone over the years and United’s daily service to San Francisco was the last.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) has eyed about 4,000 acres of undeveloped airport property to site the farm, which, if approved, would help Los Angeles comply with a measure that requires the city to generate 400MW of electricity from solar installations by 2014. The site would therefore satisfy a quarter of the total requirement.
The move, however, has not gone down well in all quarters and there are doubts as to whether it complies with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.
While he welcomed solar facilities into his district, Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said that property owners had been required to sell their land specifically to make way for the airport. “The city of Los Angeles took this land by eminent domain for the express purpose of establishing and operating a regional airport vital to our county’s ability to provide air transportation service now and in the future. The city should keep its promise to the people of the Antelope Valley or give the land back to the rightful owners.”
Leasing or selling airport land for a purpose other than aviation would necessitate approvals from the FAA, reports the newspaper. Federal regulations require that land purchased for an airport be used for aeronautical purposes. The US Air Force may also have to approve the change if there is a potential for the solar facility to interfere with military operations at nearby Edwards Air Force Base and Plant 42, an Air Force aerospace facility next to the Palmdale airport property.
Industry studies indicate that solar collectors, which are made of glare-resistant materials, do not pose a hazard for aircraft because they absorb light rather than reflect it. The FAA has no regulations covering the location and installation of solar panels. However, a key FAA provision requires that any revenue generated by a non-aviation use belongs to the airport or airport system.
Officials for the city’s airport authority told the newspaper that there had been several preliminary discussions with solar companies and the DWP about using the western portion of the airport. A spokesman for the airport said although it would like to retain the property, it did not need all 17,000 acres, pointing out that Los Angeles International itself only covered about 3,500 acres.