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Considerations for Airport Solar Farms

photograph of an airport runway with an airplane in the background

In 2010, the Federal Aviation Administration released a study that suggested that airports are an ideal location for solar panels, stating that: 

Solar technology has matured and is now a reliable way to reduce airport operating costs. Environmentally, solar energy shows a commitment to environmental stewardship, especially when the panels are visible to the traveling public. Among the environmental benefits are cleaner air and fewer greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Solar use also facilitates small business development and U.S. energy independence. 

As a result, airport solar developments have taken off over the last few years. However, when planning solar farms at airports, several critical factors must be considered to ensure not only the efficiency of the solar panels but also the safety and operations of the airport. With proper advanced planning and siting considerations, solar technologies can successfully be installed at airports with minimal or no impacts. This resource provides general information about the most important siting considerations for airport solar farms along with examples of successful solar installations at airports.

Glare and Reflectivity

One of the primary considerations is glare; it is essential to conduct a glare analysis to ensure that solar panels do not reflect sunlight towards air traffic controllers or pilots, potentially compromising safety. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires airports to measure the visual impact of potential solar projects on pilots and air traffic control personnel. The airport must file a Notice of Proposed Construction or Alteration Form 7460-1 that includes a statement that the project will not cause any visual impact. The airport submits the form to the FAA for review and approval.

There are physical methods to potentially reduce reflection from panels and the associated glare and glint. These include the application of anti-reflective coatings, and/or texturing to the panels. These methods could help minimize reflection while also improving the efficiency of the solar panels.

Radar Interference

Although the likelihood of electro-magnetic or radar interference from PV systems is minimal, it is still worth assessing to enhance the assurance of site owners and stakeholders. The location of solar installations must be strategically chosen to avoid interference with radar systems and navigation aids. PV arrays typically are lower in height compared to most other structures in and around airfields. Airport radar systems, such as airport surveillance radar, are usually mounted on towers or elevated platforms. The FAA has conducted several case studies showing that maintaining a setback of 250 to 500 feet between the front edges of a PV array and existing radar equipment is effective in preventing potential issues related to obstruction or signal reflection. Regardless, careful planning and collaboration with aviation authorities are imperative to mitigate any potential risks associated with solar farm installations at airports.

Wildlife Impact

Currently, there is limited data quantifying the potential impact of solar systems on wildlife in airport environments. Nonetheless, when locating solar systems at airports, it is crucial to prevent the creation of wildlife attractants, like perches or shaded areas. Strategies can be implemented to reduce the attraction of birds to the solar system for perching or sheltering. These strategies may involve installing spikes or similar deterrent systems on top of each panel to prevent birds from perching. Additionally, considering closures or barriers behind panels can deter birds and wildlife from seeking shelter in those spaces.

Denver International Airport (DIA) Solar Farm

DIA serves as an excellent example of how airports can leverage their property for solar farm development. The solar projects were successfully executed through private-public partnerships, facilitated by ground lease and power purchase agreements. Moreover, interconnection agreements were established with the local utility provider. Each solar PV system owner, unique to every system, enjoys federal tax incentives, payments for renewable energy certificates, rebates for solar rewards from the local utility provider, and supplies power to DIA.

Woods Allee, director of Technical Programs in the Planning and Development Office at DIA, said that there was little to no impact to pilots or air traffic control during construction of the solar farms at DIA. Additionally, no complaints of interference from the solar farm have been made. By operating 10 megawatts (MW) solar facilities, DIA not only reduces its carbon footprint but also benefits from lower-than-average electricity costs for the energy generated by the solar arrays installed after 2012. Any surplus electricity is sold back to the utility through the Xcel Solar Rewards program.

How to Lease Airport Land for Solar Energy

Leasing airport land for solar projects benefits local communities and airports alike. There are many benefits of airport solar farms- they support sustainability, boost revenue, cut electricity costs, and maximize resources without disrupting other sectors. Despite this, only about 20% of U.S. airports have embraced solar power in the past decade. As more airports realize these advantages and shift to solar energy, it will yield positive environmental and economic outcomes, creating a win-win situation for all. 

Airport landowners can now list their property for solar lease opportunities on LandGate's exclusive marketplace at no cost, gaining exposure to a broad network of solar energy developers and investors. Additionally, LandGate offers support for site analysis, prioritization, and procurement materials, presenting a tailored solution to help airports harness their land for renewable energy.


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