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Pittsburgh International Airport To Build Mini Power Plant Dependent On Natural Gas And Solar Energy

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- The Pittsburgh International Airport is on the way to becoming an energy-sufficient airport.

Airports need a lot of electrical power to operate.

At Pittsburgh International, the peak demand is 14 megawatts or enough electricity to light up 10,000 homes.

But being on the national grid makes you vulnerable.

"We've seen airports around the country and around the world that have lost power and have had to shut down," Allegheny County Rich Fitzgerald told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Friday.

This summer, airports in Los Angeles, San Antonio, Orange County, and Las Vegas experienced power losses that delayed flights and put travelers in the dark.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

On Friday, to keep that from happening here, the Allegheny County Airport Authority board voted to create an independent, self-sufficient power grid at Pittsburgh International.

"We are building the smartest airport in the world with the first-of-its-kind micro-grid," said Christina Cassotis, CEO of the airport. "It will be powered by natural gas and solar. It will improve our resiliency, lower our costs, and improve our sustainability."

A mini power plant will be built at the airport, powered by five natural gas-fueled generators using the natural gas that is already being extracted on airport land. It will be supplemented by thousands of solar panels to be built along the Parkway.

Past the McClaren Road Exit right off the Parkway West, before you hit the Airport Exit, you will see a hill that will soon sprout 7,800 solar panels.

Winning the contract to oversee this $30 million project is Peoples Gas, who partnered with CNX Resources for the natural gas, EIS Solar for the solar farm, and IMG Energy Solutions to run the power plant.

"All of the energy is being created right here on-site, which is incredibly unique," added Morgan O'Brien, CEO of Peoples Gas.

"We are going to be building the largest solar farm in Allegheny County. Eight acres of this airport land will be dedicated to solar," says Fitzgerald.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

In short, the airport will have its own electricity supply.

"A micro-grid allows us to be energy independent from the national grid," says Cassotis. "It's a power generator for the airport that will allow the entire airport — our field, terminal, Hyatt, Sunoco gas station, and a whole lot of tenants — to realize cost savings and improved efficiency."

Delano: "So that means if the power grid nationally goes down...?"

Cassotis: "We're fine."

Delano: "You can still run?"

Cassotis: "Actually, the national grid becomes our backup."

And the cost to the taxpayer?

"They'll be no cost to the taxpayers," says Fitzgerald.

WATCH: KDKA's Jon Delano reports in the studio on the changes coming to Pittsburgh International Airport.

That's because the project is being underwritten by Peoples Gas and its partners.

They will recoup the money through monthly electricity rates charged to the airport, but that rate should be approximately a half-million dollars lower than current charges.

"It isolates the airport from future grid charges," notes O'Brien.

The airport should be electricity self-sufficient by mid-2021.

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