Whether by car or by plane, this is one of the first things you see as you approach the Indianapolis airport.
44,000 solar panels are generating electricity that is feeding into the energy grid, and another 44,000 panels are expected to be installed by next summer.
“It’s an iconic symbol,” says Eric Anderson, Property director, Indianapolis Airport Authority. “A lot of corporations when they come to visit or they’re thinking about relocating or expanding – part of that equation is how green is the state or the city. So this is a really good symbol.”
From Farm To Home
And getting energy from the solar farm to individual homes isn’t easy.
“Putting up the panels and the racking goes very fast,” says Chris Sears, the construction manager for Cenergy Power. “The electrical side is the most important part. Making sure that we have continuity and positive negative grounds that are going through. That we have everything working together so that we don’t have any issues with sending power out.”
The panels are hooked together and feed the energy back into a central system called an inverter. There are multiple inverters throughout the solar farm, and those then send the electricity into power lines.
Indianapolis Power and Light has a 15 year contract to purchase the energy, but the company plans to use it more to supplement the energy it already gets from traditional sources such as coal than as an independent energy source.
“It’s a delicate balance with utility companies to make sure that we have base load generation, whether that’s with coal or natural gas, to make sure that there’s 24/7 for our customers,” says Brad Riley, the Indianapolis Power and Light marketing director. “A lot of renewable energy projects, we see this being one of them, it’s a tremendous project, and it’s great for our mix, however, the sun doesn’t always shine which means it’s not generating electricity all the time- only when the sun is shining.”
He says using only renewable energy would cost too much, and those expenses would get passed directly to customers.
A ‘Win, Win, Win’
The panels will generate about 24 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to power 3,600 homes. And while that’s a small number in light of the state’s total population, from the perspective of officials, it’s a good reuse of land that was basically wasted before.
“This is actually a win, win, win which doesn’t happen in America today,” says Kurt Schneider, Partner and VP at Johnson Melloh Solutions, the contracting company in charge of the project. “The win was the airport had land it couldn’t really use because it was right above a runway and 15 feet is the height restriction.”
The airport is now getting a 30 year lease on the property.
The second win comes because of job creation and economic development. The third comes from tax money that will be paid on the land.