Good news for the Barnstable Municipal Airport was delivered yesterday by representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration.
At a workshop held by the town airport commission, agency representatives promised to assist the commission with a proposal to build solar photovoltaic panels on 30 acres of airport land.
During another workshop, agency representatives suggested a strategy to help the airport move forward on the development of the former Mildred’s Chowder House parcel on Route 28 in Hyannis.
In regard to the solar panels, the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative, a participant in the project, has estimated that the panels will generate enough energy to “zero out” all the airport’s electricity bills.
The cooperative further estimates that the panels could generate millions of dollars in revenue for the airport enterprise fund over the 20-year life of the project.
The total financial benefit to the airport over the 20-year life has been estimated by the electric cooperative at more than $6.5 million.
But the planned development of the solar panels has run into a federal obstacle.
Solar panels installed at the Manchester, New Hampshire, airport generated glare that blinded federal air traffic controllers at the airport for about an hour a day, according to Lisa Lesperance, a community planner at the aviation agency.
In the wake of the Manchester experience, the agency halted the installation of solar panels at the nation’s airports.
Mary T. Walsh, manager of the airports division for the New England office of Federal Aviation Administration in Burlington, Massachusetts, said the agency then hired a top expert to research the problem of glare from solar panels.
Ms. Walsh said the expert identified four possible anomalies at the Manchester airport installation.
In the end, she said, the expert determined that the panels had been put in the wrong place.
Ms. Lesperance said the Manchester airport had followed the guidance provided by the federal agency before putting in the panels.
The agency, she said, now was revising its guidance, a revision that likely will be completed by early spring.
Until the revision is complete, she said, the agency will not allow construction of more solar panels at airports.
But Ms. Lesperance said the aviation agency was willing to work with the airport, the cooperative, and the project developer, Broadway Electrical Co. Inc. of Boston, to help prepare its application for agency approval of the Barnstable airport project.
That way, she said, the Barnstable airport proposal can be submitted quickly once the new guidance is established.
She estimates the agency then will take between 45 and 60 days to review the Barnstable project for possible approval.
Dennis C. Daru Jr., project manager for Broadway Electrical, said the timeframe described by Ms. Lesperance would work for the possible construction schedule.
In the other workshop, Clifford Vacirca, project manager at the aviation agency’s Burlington office, dashed the airport’s hopes for an agency waiver to put part of a new commercial building in the “Runway Object Free Area” that extends onto the former Mildred’s parcel.
Airport commissioner Donald E. Megathlin said the developable part of the parcel is being squeezed between the “object free” area and a 60-foot setback off Route 28/Iyannough Road.
Mr. Vacirca said the “object free” area is supposed to be just that, an area free of any objects save those needed to help aircraft maneuver, such as ground-mounted guidance lights.
But Ms. Walsh said the agency also would like to arrange for the demolition of two buildings near the runway: one housing Bob’s Furniture at 316 Iyannough Road and the other housing Enterprise Rent-A-Car at 332 Iyannough Road.
She said the agency would be prepared to help fund the acquisition of the parcels to pave the way for demolition.
“If you have the purse, we will take your money,” airport commission chairman Ronald Persuitte said.
In the ensuing discussion, airport commissioners and agency representatives saw that scenario as providing more land outside the “object free” area for the airport to develop.
The land could allow for the construction of a new commercial building farther west on Route 28, escaping the restrictions on the Mildred’s parcel.
Following the workshops, Mr. Persuitte said, “I feel like a kid at Christmastime with all the presents the FAA has brought us today.”