For full article see the Tallahassee Democrat July 26 2016

A $33.2 million solar panel farm has cleared a major federal regulatory hurdle on its path to providing electricity to Tallahassee residents.

The Federal Aviation Administration found the proposed solar panel farm would have “no significant impact” on the environment or on airport operations. It also found that the project would not create glare for airplanes or obstruct the view from the air traffic control tower.

“As with any time you are dealing with a project of this magnitude there is a lot of interaction with the airport and FAA,” said Chris Curry, aviation director at Tallahassee International Airport. “Airports struggle all the time with what they can do with their property, other than aviation uses.”

This is the first time the airport has undergone such an extensive review, he said. The FAA checked to see if the project would impact the environment, that the proposed project met current land uses and that the airport was getting an appropriate amount.

“When a project is not aviation-related they need to ensure that the airport is getting fair market value for the land,” Curry said.

The airport plans to lease 120 acres between the north-south runway and Springhill Road to the Utilities Department for 33 years. Both are overseen by the City of Tallahassee.

The airport will use the money it makes off the lease to reduce the cost airlines pay to operate at the airport, Curry said. Hopefully, those savings will be passed on to customers in lower ticket prices, he said.

The city wants to diversify its fuel supply, reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and reduce its carbon footprint.

Origis will erect 90,000 solar modules. The farm will generate up to 20 megawatts — or 2 percent of the city’s current capacity. Power poles and lines will be constructed to connect to a substation on Spring Hill Road north of Capital Circle Southeast.

The initial lease rate is slightly less than $60,000 annually, said Rob McGarrah, general manager for the city’s electric utility. “As long as there is a Purchase Power Agreement between the city and Origis, Electric (Utilities) will pay the lease payment to the airport,” McGarrah said in an email to the Democrat.

Construction should last six months and be finished by spring or early summer, McGarrah said.

Originally, the project was only going to be for a 10-megawatt solar farm on 80 acres. But the size and output changed when the city was unable to reach an agreement with First Solar and switched to Origis, he said.

Origis is responsible for putting up the initial capital costs, McGarrah said. “The city will only pay for the energy that is produced and delivered to our system over the life of the PPA,” he said.