San Jose Int'l Uses VALE Funds to Realize Environmental Benefits

Jodi Richards
Published in: 


Project: Preconditioned air & ground power units for 13 gates; associated infrastructure upgrades; 11 new electric vehicles

Location: Norman Y. Mineta San Jose Int'l Airport

Consultant: Jacobs Consultancy (now LeighFisher)

Total Cost: $6.23 million

FAA Funding: $4.63 million

Airport Contribution: $1.6 million

Grant Type: Voluntary Airport Low Emission

13 Preconditioned Air Units: $716,000

400Hz Ground Power Units: $522,000

Wiring Upgrades: $1.01 million

Substation Upgrades: $1.02 million

Routing Power to Gates: $1.47 million

PC Air: JBT AeroTech JetAire

Electric Vehicles: Taylor-Dunn

Airside operations at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) are creating lower emission levels and netting increased environmental benefits thanks in part to a more than $4.6 million Voluntary Airport Low Emission (VALE) project grant from the FAA.

The federal program, established in 2004, provides funding to commercial service airports located in air quality nonattainment and maintenance areas. The program allows airport sponsors to use Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds and Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs) to finance low-emission vehicles, refueling and recharging stations, gate electrification and other projects to improve airport air quality.

Airport sponsors can also earn emission credits to meet current or future Clean Air Act requirements with VALE projects. SJC's recent efforts, for instance, earned it 114 tons of emission credits.

The airport filed its VALE grant application in January 2009 and received a nearly $4.63 million grant at the end of February the same year, relates SJC deputy director Dave Maas, P.E., LEED AP. The airport supplemented the grant money with about $1.6 million of its own funds. Jacobs Consultancy (now LeighFisher) assisted the airport with its FAA grant application.

Ready, Set, Go

Shortly after the VALE program was announced, SJC formed a subcommittee with members from all departments - operations, facilities, environmental, finance, etc. - to examine ways the airport might use a VALE grant. After meeting regularly, the committee proposed two projects: electrifying 13 gates and purchasing electric ramp vehicles.

The project included design and installation of preconditioned air units (PCAs) and 400Hz ground power units (GPUs) at 13 gates, as well as electrical upgrades to the building to accommodate new equipment. Additionally, the grant covered the incremental cost of nine new electric vehicles for on-airport use (expenses above what similar gasoline-powered vehicles would have cost). Two other electric vehicles were also purchased but not subsidized by the VALE grant, because they were not more expensive than similar gasoline-powered counterparts.

The airport's new Taylor-Dunn fleet includes a two-person utility vehicle used primarily by facilities personnel and a six-seater used to transport passengers inside the terminal. The large-capacity vehicle is especially handy in the north concourse of Terminal B, Maas explains, because of the building's length. The grant requires the airport to maintain the electric vehicles for 11 years.

Although updates were originally budgeted only for the new Terminal B, the airport installed GPUs and PCA units on Terminals A, A+ and the federal inspection facility that were being remodeled as well. "We wanted equity amongst all the gates, and VALE was a way to accomplish that," Maas explains.

Jacobs Consultancy helped SJC complete the application process and select the electric vehicles, PCA units and GPUs. It also determined the "upstream electrical infrastructure" costs that would be covered by the grant - the most costly aspect of this kind of project, notes Darcy Zarubiak, associate director with Jacobs.

Of the total $5.5 million GPU/PCA project, about $3.5 million went toward electrical upgrades to support the PCA units, he notes. According to Zarubiak, insufficient upstream electrical infrastructure capacity is by far the most common reason jet bridges do not use pre-conditioned air. More than half of VALE funds for all such projects cover electrical infrastructure, he adds.

Sorting out where the electrical capacity was allocated was a key aspect of the project because construction was also occurring in the airport's new terminal at the same time, Zarubiak notes. Because VALE-funded projects must be elective, Jacobs had to ensure that the FAA was not paying for anything the airport would have otherwise completed without the grant. "We specifically went upstream," explains Zarubiak. "We got the costs for running wire all the way back upstream to the substation that was providing power to those 13 gates."

In addition, Jacobs prorated the cost of the transformer over the cost of the substation based on the size of the transformer and the load from the 13 gates. "It was truly defensible," he emphasizes.

SJC also demonstrated creativity in how it met the FAA's "burden of proof" that the new equipment would, indeed, be used. "They don't want to put PCA units out there and have them unused; they want emission reductions," Zarubiak explains.

Instead of getting commitment letters from carriers regarding specific gates, the airport changed its official airline rules and regulations to require any airline parking at any of the 13 gates to connect and use PCA. The strategy took into account the frequency airlines change gates and helped secure the funding.

Local & National Benefits

Using the FAA's Emission Dispersion Modeling System and Jacobs' own proprietary software, Zarubiak's team determined the reduction of emissions that could be achieved based on SJC's specific flight information and gate traffic data.

Over a 20-year period, the new PCA units at 13 gates will eliminate 114 tons of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and 13 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). "It's making a meaningful improvement in air quality," Zarubiak summarizes.

Emissions reductions for the 11 electric vehicles are not as large - 0.07 tons of NOx and 0.05 tons of VOCs over the 10-year life of the vehicles. The amount of grant money associated with the vehicles is also "substantially smaller," notes Zarubiak.

The overall environmental benefits to SJC and the surrounding community are huge, says SJC communications director, David Vossbrink. Replacing gasoline-powered vehicles with electric equipment reduces emissions, while PCA units reduce emissions and noise, he relates.

Vossbrink says the VALE projects dovetail well with the airport's larger commitment to environmental protection and sustainability, as demonstrated by LEED Silver certification for Terminal B. "It's really part and parcel of the overall commitment to environmental sustainability where we can make it work," Vossbrink notes. "[We] do it cost-effectively and see genuine results that are good for everybody."

As an urban airport, air quality is a regional issue, Vossbrink adds.

"We're a partner in addressing this issue and trying to make sure that we're a good environmental citizen in the areas that we have the ability to control." While the airport cannot do much about aircraft emissions, for instance, it can make a positive difference by using more environmentally conscious airport equipment, he explains. On its landside, for instance, the airport swapped out traditional shuttle buses for compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles and installed a CNG filling station. "There's been a lot of work to contribute to reducing emissions in general at the airport," Vossbrink notes.

Zarubiak considers VALE "an investment by the FAA that will provide benefits to the national air system." The 13 gates at SJC, for example, are projected to save a combined $2.6 million per year in jet fuel costs-essentially making the project cash positive in just 2 1/2 years. "The investment the FAA has made has brought down the cost of doing business," he says. "You can look at it myopically and say somebody spent to build this. But when you look at it strategically, you can see this is an investment by the FAA in making aviation better."


2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



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