David A. Nealy
To the editor:
On Oct. 19, I was struck by an article in another publication announcing the start-up of Indianapolis International Airport’s extensive solar farm installation.
The article — and photograph of rows of solar panels (44,000 total) — were clearly intended to highlight the merit of a renewable energy application as well as “forward looking” thinking on the part of airport management. Indianapolis Power and Light has agreed to buy the farm’s power.
However, much more striking (and troublesome) to me was the relative lack of merit and cost effectiveness of the installation.
Almost all the specifics cited in the article would argue that the 75 acres of land covered by solar panels would serve us much better if left alone to grow corn or beans.
According to the article, “the sun-generated power will cost three to four times more than IPL can sell it for, so the utility will subsidize the difference by raising rates to it customers.”
The farm produces only 12.5 megawatts of DC power — requiring expensive DC/AC inverters — and requires 12 employees to operate it — about as many as a typical shift operation at a 500-megawatt central steam station facility would need. Other noteworthy aspects of the project include the fact that federal subsidies were required for a facility owned and run by a Taiwanese company.
In fairness, renewable energy systems (wind, solar) clearly offer some future promise, but cost-effective implementation remains problematical in terms of spatial footprint, affordable grid connections and intrinsic unpredictability.
I wish the airport well but will reserve judgment on this project’s usefulness.