Jefferson airport becomes state's first fully solar-powered airstrip
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Power Trip Energy President Andy Cochrane shows the solar power array his company built at Jefferson County International Airport near Port Townsend. The array supplies power for the runway and navigational lights.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — A solar energy array now working at Jefferson County International Airport makes the small airfield the only airport in the state with operational reliance on solar power.

“This project has been in the works for more than two years,” said Power Trip Energy Corp. president Andy Cochrane, whose company built the solar array. “It is now complete and we are celebrating,”

The project generates enough energy to operate the airport's runway and navigational lights as well as electricity for one of the tenant buildings, Cochrane said.

The 17-kilowatt, 88-panel, 1,400-square-foot array is located on a 10,000-square-foot patch of land at the airport's west end, near state Highway 20.

It connects to the navigational beacon's power shed and is surrounded by a 7-foot-high fence in an area that is not directly accessible from the main airport area.

Power Trip will maintain the property inside the fence while the port will mow the grass outside the fence.

The port is leasing the land. In return it gets free power generated from the community system.

Power Trip Energy and a consortium of 12 investors — the Jefferson Solar Group — have funded the $150,000 project and expect to get a healthy return when the array is sold to the Port of Port Townsend, most likely in 2020, Cochrane said.

The array is expected to generate power for another 20 years after that, Cochrane said.

The investors in the project, many of whom toured the facility last week, were motivated both by profit and the desire to help the community.

“It was exciting to have the opportunity to invest in a community project like this,” said investor Carla Main. “We believe in alternative energy, but it was also great that we will get a good return on our investment. It doesn't just make sense environmentally. It also makes good economic sense.”

The array was built in conjunction with the port as part of a state tax incentive program that encourages partnership of solar developers with local governments.

In the last three weeks, the array has generated 775 kilowatt hours, which is equivalent to the power needed for five small homes, Cochrane said.

Cochrane said there isn't a lot that can go wrong with a solar installation.

“In over 250 installations, we haven't ever had a mechanical failure,” he said. “The only thing that could go wrong is that if energy costs go down enough to make solar less financially advantageous.

“But I think that energy costs are going to go up.”

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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 26. 2012 6:08PM
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