New Solar Array Cuts Energy Bills at Burlington Int'l

Mike Schwanz
Published in: 

"Going Green" is more than a slogan at Burlington International (BTV); it's a literal description of the Vermont airport's recent environmental project. The 500-kilowatt solar array BTV installed on top of its parking garage last year includes a verdant rooftop garden - a fitting feature for the busiest airport in the "Green Mountain State." 

The solar array reduces the airport's energy consumption and utility bills, and the associated green space has become a popular destination for airport visitors. Some groups even rent the scenic venue for special occasions. 

BTV Aviation Director Gene Richards reports that the solar feature is expected to reduce the airport's energy costs by approximately 3% per year for the next three decades. 

Project: Solar Array
Location: Burlington (VT) Int'l Airport 
Array Site: Rooftop of parking garage
Size of Array: 2,000 315-watt panels
Cost: $1.5 million
Primary Goals: Reduce airport's electricity consumption & costs; provide backup energy source 
Anticipated Savings: $3.5 million over next 30 yrs
Project Manager: Burlington Electric Dept.
Contractor: Encore Redevelopment
Ancillary Benefits: Rooftop garden adjacent to solar panels is popular visitor attraction; revenue from groups renting the area for special events

Planning for the project started when BTV expanded its parking garage in 2010. While preliminary work such as installing cable conduits was completed at that time, construction of the array didn't begin until last October. The project was undertaken in partnership with the Burlington Electric Department; Encore Redevelopment, also based in Burlington, performed the installation. 

Crews installed approximately 2,000 315-watt solar panels on fixed, ballasted racking systems. The project was finished in December 2014, at a cost of $1.5 million. 

Green Gains

The Burlington Electric Department owns and operates the system. Power generated by the solar panels immediately connects with the utility company's existing distribution system that serves the airport. In the first half of 2015, the solar array reportedly produced more than 325,000 kilowatt hours of electricity. Utility officials predict that BTV will save approximately $117,000 annually, which amounts to $3.5 million over the next 30 years. 

"Besides saving money, the solar array will give us another source of backup energy, to go along with our generator," Richards notes.

As one might expect, most of the airport's gains will be made during summer. "The panels are most effective from April to November," he explains. "In winter, the sun is very low, and the panels are not as effective."

The new 13,000-square-foot rooftop garden helps minimize stormwater runoff from the roof, and also provides airport visitors with a scenic place to enjoy some of the best vistas in New England, Richards says.

"As part of the deal for this project, we had to commit to spend about $300,000 on landscaping," he explains. "So instead of just adding some trees around the property, we decided to install the rooftop garden."

Party-Perfect Setting

The garden inspired by the solar project is located on the sixth floor of the parking garage and is accessible via stairs and an elevator. The outdoor space features a manicured lawn with a variety of alpine flowers, along with a picnic table and several benches. 

"It has been very well-received," Richards reports. "You can see some of the most prominent mountains in the Green Mountains, including Stowe, Mount Mansfield and Camel's Hump. The garden faces east, so you can see the sunrise. And on balmy summer evenings, it offers excellent star-gazing - and a perfect perch for watching planes land."

BTV's rooftop oasis has proved to be so popular that groups rent it for special events, providing the airport with a new source of non-aeronautical revenue. "We had a wedding there and also various fundraisers for charity events," Richards relates. "The garden can easily accommodate up to 150 people." 

The rooftop feature is open year-round, 24 hours a day. Even on moderate days during winter, travelers can enjoy stunning views of snow-capped mountains.


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