Indiana’s largest airport wants to build the largest solar energy farm in the state on 30 acres of airport-owned land near the end of a runway that would be capable of lighting up to 6,000 homes. Airport leaders have approved a 30-year plan aimed at developing land to allow the airport to grow and support itself financially for years to come.

The solar energy farm would be able to generate 10 megawatts of electricity an hour would be sold to Indianapolis Power & Light.
The airport would lease the property to a company that would build and operate the solar arrays.

Other airports, including Denver and Fresno, Calif., have put money-making solar farms near runways on property not suitable for other types of developments.

One of the first proposals to be developed will be a 60-acre solar farm that officials said would power the new development and feed energy to Indianapolis Power and Light.

When the mini city is done, consultants said it will generate $30 million to $60 million a year in rent from tenants, key to eliminating the airport’s $1.1 billion debt.

Industry experts estimate that a developer would have to spend $30 million to build the solar farm and that the equipment could generate electricity for at least 30 years.

The airport’s solar farm would send a highly visible message of public support for renewable energy, said Mark Hedegard, the airport’s senior business development director.

Thousands of solar panels — tinted black so the glare doesn’t blind airplane pilots — would be planted next to the airport’s front door. Millions of airplane passengers going to the Col. H. Weir Cook terminal building each year and millions more motorists on I-70 would pass the solar farm.

The site is tucked next to a long, circular ramp that is used by vehicles getting off the interstate and heading onto the road to the new terminal.

An additional 1.76 megawatt array of 5,700 solar panels is being built on the roof of the Emmett J. Bean Federal Center, the military’s finance facility in Lawrence.

Andrew Crocox, project manger for electric contractor Ermco, said the Bean array should be making electricity for the IPL grid by April.

Several industry insiders said federal tax credits and accelerated depreciation on the equipment have sparked a national rush to invest in solar power, along with methane gas, wind turbines and other renewable sources of energy.

“We are taking every effort to drive that debt down,” said airport CEO John Clark. . “By creating opportunities to generate alternative revenue sources, I believe puts us in a position to accelerate that over time.”

Airport officials said about a dozen private investors have shown interest in the plan.