Though not without some controversy attached, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority will be teaming up with Dominion Energy to convert a large swath of unused land at a local airport to collect and store solar energy.
The authority’s board of directors agreed to a deal with the utility to turn over parcels totaling 835 acres on the grounds of Washington Dulles International Airport for the next 37 years.
It is the culmination of nearly three years of discussion, and now awaits final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation.
“This is a groundbreaking project,” said authority chairman William Sudow, a Virginia appointee to the body, who said that despite objections raised by some, the agreement is fair to both sides.
That deal will see Dominion providing the airports authority with electric power, charging infrastructure and buses for the duration of the lease period.
The lone dissent among board members came from Mark Uncapher, a Maryland appointee to the body, who described the plan as excellent in theory but worrisome in its details.
“My concerns are about the specifics,” said Uncapher, the only board member to vote against going forward.
His areas of disquiet included the reliability of the bus model that is proposed to be part of the agreement and, more broadly, the single-source nature of the covenant, which he termed an end run around normal procurement procedures.
Uncapher called for “healthy competition to get the best terms.”
Walter Tejada, a Virginia appointee to the authority board, acknowledged that he “had some discomfort going into this,” but had been reassured.
“I’m comfortable with the safeguards” that are in place, Tejada said at the board’s March 16 meeting.
The State Corporation Commission has given its approval to Dominion’s plan to use solar panels and other technology to both gather and store energy on the site. At the March 16 meeting, authority leaders seemed to signal they expected federal approval for use of the parcels to follow.
“It’s a great opportunity – I’m excited about it,” said board member Robert Lazaro Jr., a Virginia appointee. “Millions of people flying into the nation’s capital will see our commitment to sustainability.”
Lazaro also shot back at Uncapher, suggesting his colleague was cherry-picking data about the failures of electric-powered transit buses elsewhere in the country to paint a negative picture.
What will come to the airports authority as part of the agreement “far outweighs the concerns that have been raised,” he said.
(The buses, when they arrive, will come with 12-year extended warranties – although if the behemoths prove problematic, that would still cause heartburn for the airports authority.)
Though he pronounced himself satisfied with the agreement, board member Tejada added that a careful eye needed to be kept as the proposal moved forward.
“We have to cover all bases,” he said. “We have a lot more work to do.”