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Columbia airport launches state’s first airfield solar farm

Travis Boland
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A UPS cargo plane takes off this morning over a new solar farm at Columbia Metropolitan Airport. The installation is the first airfield solar farm in South Carolina. (Photo/Travis Boland)Columbia Metropolitan Airport is looking to make the “famously hot” Columbia sun work in its favor after today’s launch of its solar array.

The airport partnered with Con Edison Solutions to construct the farm on five acres of land between two of the airport’s active runways. The $2.5 million, 4,320-panel, 1.38 megawatt array is part of the airport’s Enhanced Construction Opportunities program.

“We’re a self-sufficient airport, we’re always looking for ways to generate revenue,” said Dan Mann, executive director of Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

The solar array is made possible by the SCE&G Bill Credit Agreement Program. SCE&G will issue a monthly bill credit to the airport at a pre-defined fixed rate kilowatt-hour generated, which is expected to produce approximately $250,000 in annual bill credits for the airport over a 10-year term.

In an October story in the Columbia Business Report, it was reported the airport will break even on the project — project cost versus electricity bill savings — in 10 years. After that, the airport would start making money and net about $1.8 million over 20 years, documents showed.

Because the panels are warranted for 25 years, the solar farm would continue to generate revenue past the 20-year mark, Mann said, adding that the airport did not incur any debt to build the project.

The program is part of the airport’s $60 million capital improvement project that began in 2010 and runs through 2018. Mann pointed out the terminal upgrades and the change to LED lights around the airport.

The solar farm is Con Edison Clean Energy Businesses’ first solar project in South Carolina and second project at a major airport.

“While we are seeing more and more solar initiatives like this across the country, the Columbia Metropolitan Airport has set an example for airfields across the state, showing that incorporating renewable, environmentally-friendly energy is an achievable opportunity that reaps huge rewards.”

Mann said the revenue generated from the upgrades will be going towards keeping costs down for passengers and possibly attract a low-cost airline such as Southwest or JetBlue.

“Moving forward, 2021 and 2022, there’s going to be a significant pilot shortage, we’re hearing in the industry, retirement age is coming. 16,000 pilots retiring and not enough in the pipeline due to legislation changes that require 1,500 hours,” Mann said. “We want to be on the front end of this, we can show that costs are low and you can make money here. We have the population and a growing economy and we want to have a plan in place.”

The project also features consoles in the airport terminal that show the direction of the sun, and how much power is being generated from the solar farm. Due to an overcast day, the console showed that the farm was generating enough power to run 123 hair dryers.

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July 03, 2017

Just wanted to see if I could get a little clarity on the math and timelines? So the project costed $2.5M, which will be paid off in 10 years via SCE&G's $250,000 a year. So is the solar farm producing energy that goes right back into the grid? How much of SCE&G's contribution is above what the solar farm would generate, or is the $250,000 all above? After the project has been paid off (10 years), it is estimated to generate $1.8M over the next 20 years (or $90,000/year). Some fluff behind the $160,000 difference from what was being received during the first 10 years? Additionally, the panels are warranted for 25 years. That means that 10 of those years will be paying off the project and the last 15 will be generating revenue (not 25 as stated). So the project should only produce $1.35M, not the $1.8M (plus 5 more years left in the warranty), as stated in this article. My math/understanding very well could be wrong, but wanted to be certain.