Port of Oakland supports solar with public-private partnership

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Port of Oakland, CA, USA

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Overview

First in US
On a clear day, passengers flying over Oakland International Airport (OAK) can see the very first solar power system built alongside an airport runway in the United States. Shimmering panels are organised into sets of arrays that absorb sunlight and produce clean power. From the ground, it is one of the greenest methods of generating electricity. As we travel along the security fence of the runway at OAK, we see these sleek panels, silently doing their job of converting sunlight into electricity to help power Oakland International Airport.

Greening the Port
The Port of Oakland, which owns and operates Oakland International Airport (OAK), is also a municipal utility that purchases electricity from the wholesale market for its own use and for use by its tenants at the Oakland seaport and at OAK. The Port, as an urban public agency, strives to reduce its impacts on the environment while growing in a sustainable manner. For example, the Port’s governing body, the Oakland Board of Port Commissioners, has established a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that requires the Port to obtain at least 20 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources and with a further goal of going well beyond that minimum. The zero-emission clean solar power system is a major step in meeting the Port Commissioners’ environmental directives. Port Board President Anthony Batarse said, “The Port of Oakland’s mission includes promoting the environmental well-being of our region. With the Port’s very first energy plant, the decision was to go solar and that contributes to a healthy community.”

To meet its renewable energy goals the Port is exploring every opportunity. At OAK there is considerable open area within certain aircraft safety zones that can support a low groundmounted solar energy system. As a Municipal Utility, the Port is able to connect a large-scale solar energy system to its own electrical distribution system. That energy can be used throughout the airport without going on the transmission grid, thereby reducing congestion and strain on the grid during the hot summer days.

Public-private partnership
The cost of financing a solar power system built, operated and maintained by the Port of Oakland was prohibitive. We all recognise that the cost of solar energy remains high because of the expense of the equipment relative to the energy produced. The Port of Oakland is a non-taxpaying public entity. Therefore it cannot benefit from available energy tax incentives and rapid depreciation schedules. Instead the Port took an innovative approach and chose to work with a private partner that could benefit from the tax and depreciation incentives. According to Port of Oakland Executive Director Omar Benjamin, “This innovative public-private partnership allows the Port to leverage its investment in clean energy for maximum environmental and community benefits. We are pleased to have a taken this small but important step toward reducing greenhouse gases and providing renewable energy at our airport,” added Benjamin.

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