Cooper: Feds help Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport go solar
The build-out of the third phase of its solar farm is expected to allow the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport to become 100 percent energy self-sufficient.
The achievement, according to officials, would make the airport the nation's first to be self-sufficient via solar power.
That's a feat worth writing home about, especially because lower energy costs help, in turn, keep down landing fees and other charges.
Some airports, according to John Naylor, the airport's vice president of planning and development, say they're self-sufficient but use renewable energy tax credits to reach that level rather than produce all the power they'll need.
In truth, both the airports he referred to and our airport have been dependent on the federal government for energy help.
We're just not a fan of government-subsidized energy, whether it's through energy tax credits or through the federal grants the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport has received and will receive for phase three of its solar farm.
For phase three, Naylor said, 90 percent of the cost will be paid with a federal grant. When it's all said and done, about $10 million will have been spent for the solar farm, most of that through federal grants.
Don't misunderstand. If the airport can get such grants. It's the job of development officers to get them. If officials say the local money they spent in addition to the federal grants to get into the solar business is less expensive than the previous forms of conventional energy they were using, they've made a wise investment.
But Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority Board members did have questions at a recent meeting. One wanted to know about the airport's return on investment. Another wanted to know about the 3,000 truckloads of dirt that must be moved to accommodate the third phase of the solar farm.
Board Chairman Dan Jacobson said it would be valuable to "look at [the solar farm's] value" and "go through that exercise" regarding a return on investment.
We think that's wise. It's important for a public utility to be wholly transparent about where its money comes from and how it spends its money — not that the airport hasn't up until now. Indeed, we don't have a quibble about the airport's operations. Flights from the airport have increased year over year for several years, and decisions about improvements there seem to be made carefully and conservatively.
But no one should be fooled that the grants for the solar farm are a bequest from some beneficent philanthropist. They come from the federal government, which means taxpayers ultimately are paying for them. A check into our return-on-investment should tell us how we're doing.