MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Sunny skies at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are not just good for takeoffs and landings — it will now mean producing electricity for the sprawling complex.

A giant solar grid, comprised of 8,705 individual collector panels, is now turning sunshine into three million watts of power.

“We have a guaranteed amount of energy that will be produced by the system ever year for the next 20 years,” Dennis Probst, the executive vice president of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, said.

When you drive up to Terminal One’s parking structures, you will notice more than cars perched atop the red and blue ramps. There is a massive steel structure that is supporting the airport’s own electrical generation grid.

“This is, for the moment at least, the largest solar array, photovoltaic array in the state of Minnesota,” Probst said.

MAC just flipped the switch on the $25-million solar farm.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“When we started talking about doing a solar project out here, we wanted to do an iconic project,” Probst said. “Something that was meaningful and that would be visible to the public in terms of our commitment to it.”

The array of interconnected solar panels will gather enough energy to supply roughly 20 percent of the airport’s electrical needs.

Generating three megawatts of power will mean less greenhouse gasses released by coal-burning power plants. It is the equivalent of removing 1,400 passenger cars from the roads for a year.

“Solar is a great energy cost-effective option now,” Holly Lahd, Fresh Energy’s electricity markets director, said.

She says it is the kind of commitment to cleaner, more sustainable energy that has other states green with envy.

“Our statewide goal is around 300 to 400 megawatts by the year 2020, and we’re poised to meet or exceed that by the end of next year,” Lahd said.

Yet beyond the environmental, it also makes economic sense.

“Of the $25-million investment made today to build this, that is worth $35 million in energy savings to us over the life of the project,” Probst said.

This is the first phase of the airport’s commitment to solar energy. The airport will begin construction on a solar array roughly half the size at Terminal Two in the spring of 2016.

Bill Hudson

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