Pittsburgh International Airport officials say they won’t be dependent on the traditional electric power grid come 2021.
That’s when a microgrid is expected to go online.
Instead of depending on power from the national electric grid that supplies most everyone else, the airport will get its power from generators fueled by solar energy or natural gas drilled on its land by Peoples Natural Gas.
The Allegheny County Airport Authority approved a 20-year-agreement with Peoples on Friday.
The eight-acre solar farm on airport land in Findlay will be visible from Interstate 376, according to Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis.
It won’t cost the authority anything, but is expected to save more than $500,000 per year in electric bills, Cassotis said.
Pittsburgh isn’t the first airport to have a microgrid, but this is the first time that such a grid will resemble Allegheny County’s plan: Natural gas wells on airport property will be used to generate electricity, and the solar farm will provide another source of generation.
Five natural gas-fueled generators and about 7,800 solar panels will be able to generate more than 20 megawatts of electricity. That’s the equivalent of powering more than 13,000 residential homes, according to the authority.
The airport’s current peak demand is about 14 megawatts.
Peoples is partnering with CNX Resources, IMG Energy Solutions, EIS Solar, PJ Dick and LLI Engineering to build and operate the microgrid.
The area will remain connected to the traditional power grid in case of emergencies or if added power is needed.
But the microgrid is expected to generate more than enough power to meet the needs of the airport, the hotel adjacent to it and the gas station on airport property.
It also will have the ability to expand to serve other entities if needed, according to Peoples President and CEO Morgan O’Brien.
Peoples will own the microgrid under a 20-year agreement with the authority.
“It meets our goals of resiliency, sustainability and cost-efficiency,” Cassotis said.
It also will be used as an example to the airlines who pay the airport’s bills that Pittsburgh is committed to using cooperative agreements and innovation to evolve, Cassotis said.
The authority is in the process of negotiating a new agreement with the airlines that needs to be in place before a $1 billion-plus improvement project moves forward. The project includes a new landside terminal that will be adjacent to its airside terminal.
The improvement project is separate from that involving the microgrid, but both are being touted by Cassotis as examples of the rebirth of Pittsburgh International decades after it lost its US Airways hub status.
“It’s really important for us to demonstrate to our international airline partners that we have assets in this region that allow us to think differently, to innovate, and to really move the industry forward,” she said. “Pittsburgh has arrived. We are back. And that message hasn’t necessarily landed everywhere.”