Advancing ESG goals for public facilities owned by federal, municipal and state governments through solar farm development on public land
How can a public facility be used to advance specific Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals such as; transitioning energy consumption of public facilities and government buildings to come from renewable energy resources?
Using the Denver International Airport (DEN) as a case study, we will describe how governments and public institutions can optimize public land holdings to develop a solar farm that can power public facilities with renewable energy.
According to Peter Daniels , “ …for the United States to reach the widely recommended goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, it will have to site renewable energy projects on roughly 145 million acres.”
The advancement of ESG goals is an objective shared between both the public and private sectors. The private sector frequently uses ESG criteria to inform investment, management and strategic decisions. Governments and other public institutions also use ESG-oriented criteria to guide operational changes, make future land use decisions and develop new legislation that benefits stakeholders.
The public sector is very focused on advancing environmental goals within the ESG ecosystem. Starting at the federal level, the current administration has a goal of 100% carbon pollution free electricity by 2035 and a net-zero carbon economy by 2025. Other governments and public institutions also have similar initiatives to advance environmental goals, such as the State of Colorado’s Roadmap to 100% Renewable Energy by 2040 and Bold Climate Action.
Governments and public institutions can start to advance environmental goals by shifting their portfolio of facilities from fossil fuel powered energy to renewable energy resources, such as solar power and wind energy. Many governments and public institutions across the country have committed to adopting renewable energy portfolio standards and are actively deploying strategies to shift towards renewable energy sources. Some initiatives focused on transitioning government and public facility portfolios to 100% renewable energy include:
City of Denver’s transition to 100% renewable electricity by 2030, including all city government facilities by 2025
Clark County, Nevada’s Sustainability and Climate Action plan focused on reducing energy consumption in County buildings and increasing the use of clean, renewable energy to power County operations
The University of California system commitment to 100% clean electricity by 2045
Port of Seattle committed to a goal for emissions from industries operating at its facilities to be carbon neutral or better by 2050
The role public facilities can play in advancing environmental goals
The energy consumed by public and privately-held commercial buildings varies by building type, function, location and other unique property specifications. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) tracks energy consumption data for all commercial buildings in the United States. The EIA’s Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey, released in December 2022, evaluated nearly 95 million square feet of commercial buildings.
This EIA survey determined an average electricity consumption of 12.6 kilowatt hours per square foot, across the 95 million square feet of commercial property studied. According to EIA’s December 2022 survey, buildings and facilities that are owned by governments and public institutions make up over 20 million square feet across the United States. These public and government facilities consumed an average of 12.4 kilowatt hours per square foot, which is just under the average consumption for all commercial properties in the United States.
Using public land to shift public facility energy consumption to renewable energy sources
For governments and public institutions to advance their environmental and energy goals in the intended time frame, public lands must be utilized for the development of additional renewable energy resources. As stated by Peter Daniels, “ …for the United States to reach the widely recommended goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, it will have to site renewable energy projects on roughly 145 million acres.”
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the largest public landowner of federal lands in the United States and is setting an example for how public lands can be leveraged to expand the national renewable energy portfolio. According to the BLM, the organization “ manages roughly 245 million acres of public lands which have substantial solar, wind, and geothermal energy potential. There is a great demand for renewable energy development and the BLM works to provide appropriate sites for environmentally sound development of renewable energy on these lands.”
Case Study: How Denver International Airport is utilizing their land to advance ESG goals
According to the Orlando Utilities Commission, the average annual electricity consumption of an airport facility in the United States is 19.7 kilowatt hours per square foot. Comparatively, the average electricity consumption across all government and public facilities is 12.4 kilowatt hours per square foot. This means Airports should not only deploy environmental initiatives that shift energy consumption from fossil fuel to renewable sources, but should also be willing to determine if airport land can be leveraged to expand the national renewable energy portfolio through new solar projects.
As an example, the Denver International Airport (DEN) has approximately 2.6 million square feet of facility space in the main terminal. Using the average annual electricity consumption for U.S. airports, of 19.7 kilowatt hours per square foot, DEN consumes around 50,000 megawatt hours (MWh) each year. Based on a LandGate estimate, and the estimated 50,000 MWh that the airport facility likely consumes annually, a 50 MW capacity solar farm would require around 400 acres of land. An additional 100 acres would be necessary for battery storage, distribution and other infrastructure.
Denver International Airport is using LandGate’s marketplace to receive offers from solar companies to lease land to develop a solar project. The land that DEN is currently seeking offers from solar developers for lease has approximately 1,200 buildable acres, after removing the exclusion zones and estimating potential setbacks.
Using DEN’s estimated annual energy consumption of 50,000 MWh, and the projection that 400 acres of land could accommodate a 50 MW capacity solar farm, if DEN leased all 1,200 acres to a solar developer, the airport would be able to power the entire facility with renewable energy. Along with reducing DEN’s reliance on fossil fuel powered energy, the airport would benefit economically when receiving land rent or reductions in energy costs as negotiated with the selected solar developer. DEN is setting an example for other government and public institutions by leveraging its own public land to develop new renewable energy resources.
This new source of renewable energy can be consumed by the airport as well as distributed throughout the region. This action taken by DEN directly advances federal, state and local environmental goals to reduce reliance on fossil fuel power plants and increase dependence on carbon-free electricity.
Determine the Renewable Energy Value of Public Land