October 15, 2001
Electricity demands enter security mix at nation's airports.
Airports are scurrying to fortify their security apparatuses against future airliner sabotage in response to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Among many concerns, Washington is assessing whether to federalize security checkpoints at airports and whether to expand its air marshal program.
But a different type of security concern pervaded the airport industry prior to the strikes: Airports were looking to secure a reliable flow of electrons into their terminals and air-traffic control towers. And if air travel eventually picks up after the nation gets over the shock from the attacks, airport managers will likely refocus on how to maintain adequate electricity supplies for their increasingly energy intensive operations.
As the passenger airline industry has grown over the years, so has the need to expand airport infrastructure to facilitate the increased number of flights. During the past 10 years, cities such as Denver have developed brand new airports, while others, such as Pittsburgh, have built new terminals at existing sites. Prominent within these new airport facilities are shopping malls and other passenger amenities such as sophisticated baggage and passenger-moving equipment that have placed a bigger strain on the local electricity grids than the facilities they replaced.
Ensuring a constant power supply to air-traffic control towers and to the lighting fixtures along runways always has been a high priority. In recent years, to guarantee a supply of power during all hours of operation, many airports have decided to site power plants on their property to avoid relying solely on a local power grid that is already overtaxed in many regions of the country.
Despite all of the recent construction and the slowing of the economy, aviation groups still complain that airport infrastructure in the United States is woefully inadequate and that construction of new airports and runways will be the only way to achieve substantial reductions in airport and airspace congestion.
In its latest assessment of the U.S. transportation industry, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the aviation sector a D on its report card-compared to a B- more than a decade earlier in 1988-due primarily to airport infrastructure not keeping up with increased passenger traffic. While the construction of new runways promises to strain airport authorities' capital budgets, business groups view a streamlined aviation system as key to spurring economic growth. If the surge in airport construction continues, it's inevitable that many of these airports will consider building their own power plants.
The architects of the new $2.2 billion Midfield Terminal project at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport-scheduled to open in early 2002-decided to build their own power plant to supplement electricity they had been receiving exclusively from Detroit Edison. The leaders of Wayne County in Michigan, owner of the airport, and Northwest Airlines, which is building the Midfield terminal for its own use, outsourced the construction of the new energy facility to Metro Energy LLC, a joint venture of DQE Energy Services of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Michigan Consolidated Gas, now a subsidiary of DTE Energy. The contract called for the partnership to build a facility that would provide 17 MW of electricity to the airport as well as hot water and chilled water for heating and cooling.
Denver International Airport may not have its own power plant, but the airport now has access to five sources of transmission line power, giving it redundant power supply unmatched at any other airport in the world. Just this past July, Xcel Energy of Denver placed into service its Green Valley switching station and a 40-mile-long, 230-kilovolt transmission line from its Fort St. Vrain Generating Station near Platteville. Xcel said the design and engineering of the new transmission line and switching station does not guarantee 100 percent reliability, but the project does greatly increase its options in the event of emergencies.
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