California airports are rewriting their traditional master plans to embrace environmental stewardship and sustainability policies.

Airport managers pursue ambitious new technologies in fuel conversions, equipment retrofitting and electrification of ground equipment and passenger vehicles to reduce high air pollution levels at airports and in adjacent communities. Each of these Green Projects has a price, and the costs are significant.

After 9/11, airports by necessity increased their funding for security and safety. Environmental projects that slowed during this period have been helped along by new grant programs from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. These funding sources, while significant, have restrictions and focus areas. Grant applications are complex. Airports continue to look for creative funding opportunities to improve air quality and conserve energy.

How do airports find funds to finance Green Projects? Are there incentives to encourage airports and contracting vendors to use cleaner technologies? What alliances can be formed to generate new funding partners and collaborations?

Green Collaborations

“After 9/11 they really had to focus on security, and this is a way of them being able to reengage and put monies back into environmental technologies,” said Bill Van Amburg, senior vice president of CALSTART, a transportation technologies consortium in Pasadena. CALSTART has been active in advocating for efficient, clean transportation technologies since its inception in 1992.

In February, 2009, CALSTART obtained more than $895,000 in grant funding from the Environmental Protection Agency to help California airports (including San Francisco International, Oakland International and San Diego International) reduce pollution from airport ground vehicles.

The award is part of the EPA’s 2005 Diesel Emissions Reduction Act program that allows airports to retrofit and replace a variety of diesel-powered ground vehicles including rescue vehicles, shuttles, sweepers and cranes.

CALSTART applied for the DERA grant on behalf of the California Airports Partnership, a statewide group of airport environmental managers. When CALSTART learned that some members were precluded from applying due to the cost level of each project, it saw an opportunity to combine them into one EPA grant application.

“We have been meeting monthly for years to tap into our expertise and help them where we can,” said Steven Sokolsky, project manager at CALSTART. “When the opportunity came up last year to apply for the DERA grant, none of the airports individually met the threshold for the application.”

“An application required a $500,000 minimum up to a maximum of $5 million,” said Sokolsky. “Since each project fell below the minimum, individual airports were precluded from applying for the grant.”

“Because we’re nonprofit and we’re eligible to apply, we said let’s band these interested airports together into one application, and then we’re meeting the minimum threshold or exceeding it. We could take the administrative burden off of them,” he said.

Sokolsky said the DERA grant requires varied matching fund levels from each airport. “Each of the measures in the grant has different match requirements from the EPA. For instance, EPA will pay 100 percent of a retrofit but only 75 percent of a re-power and 25 percent of a vehicle replacement. So, the amount the airports are required to pay as their match share is considered leveraged funding.”

“Completing the grant applications can be challenging,” said Lawrence Galindo, noise and environmental affairs supervisor at Oakland International Airport, one recipient of the DERA funds. “CALSTART was very effective in streamlining the process by representing multiple airports in one grant application.” Galindo believes more airports could benefit from collaboration with CALSTART and its specialized knowledge of the grant preparation process.

An earlier CALSTART effort with SFO and its local Air Quality Management District resulted in the first grant award to a non-municipal applicant.

“We started working with CALSTART in the late 90s at a time when we were working in close partnership with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in getting them started on using grant funds for SFO permitted private sector passenger vehicles,” said SFO Clean Air Vehicle Coordinator Roger Hooson. SFO had thousands of private sector permitted vehicles — shuttles, vans, taxis — that came to the airport each year. “It just seemed to us there was an opportunity here to really get a lot of bang for the buck by replacing the diesel and gasoline that were used in those services with natural gas,” he said. The Bay Area AQMD agreed and awarded the funds.

“All of the airports are really cognizant of the community relations aspect and the green image that they want to convey,” said Van Amburg. “It’s a good example for other environmental areas where city and public agencies can work together.”

The FAA On the Ground

“We are now in the sprint-to-finish stage of a comprehensive modernization of our $1.3 billion project that we started several years ago,” said David Vossbrink, communications director for Mineta San Jose International Airport. “As part of this project, we have a new Terminal B and a new concourse that have been designed for LEED sustainability standards, and we anticipate getting at least a basic LEED certification.”

The LEED part of it was dialed in from the beginning, Vossbrink said. “We’re very proud of the environmental commitment that has been incorporated into it.”

All 12 aircraft gates in the new building will have “pre-conditioned air” and electrified systems for ground equipment. To bring the 16 gates in the older building up to this standard, SJC applied to the FAA for a grant under its Voluntary Airport Low Emissions Program. The VALE Program, created in 2003, funds electrical power upgrades at airport gates and pre-conditioned air units to reduce aircraft idling on the ground. Also included in the grant are funds for low emission vehicles, refueling and recharging stations and gate electrification.

“The VALE grant, available through the FAA, turned out to be something that fit the bill for us to retrofit the gates that did not have pre-conditioned air and did not have the electrification for ground service equipment,” said Vossbrink.

In March, 2009, the FAA awarded SJC a $4.6 million VALE grant for electrical power upgrades and additional pre-conditioned air units. The award was the first to an airport on the West Coast, and SJC is only the tenth facility in the United States to receive a VALE award.

“Four million dollars is significant; we’re delighted to get the news. It accomplishes several goals for us. It improves our efficiency, it improves our environmental sustainability,” he said. “We’ll have all 28 of our aircraft gates with pre-conditioned air and a power system to support electrical ground service equipment.”

SJC’s total cost for the VALE project is $6,052,310. SJC is responsible for 25 percent of the cost under the VALE guidelines; the federal government pays 75 percent of eligible project cost.

One Airport, Many Fund Sources

On July 21, 2009, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved John Wayne Airport’s $140 million capital improvement program.

“Bonds will help fund the terminal and the parking structure,” said Courtney Wiercioch, airport spokeswoman. “We’re using a combination of funds: substantial internal revenues, cash that the airport has generated. We are using some FAA grants, we do have a Passenger Facility Charge and we are using PFC revenues to support the project.”

Wiercioch said John Wayne will continue its commitment to energy conservation. The facility will include a new central utility plant to generate the bulk of the power necessary for the entire facility.

As part of this commitment, the airport will also apply for the FAA’s VALE grant to fund a pre-conditioned air program to reduce aircraft idling emissions at the gates. “The FAA has a pretty substantial application process,” said Wiercioch, but said the airport will follow through with the VALE grant preparation to complete the project.

The airport provides some pre-conditioned air units at the gates already, said Wiercioch, so aircraft don’t have to run air-conditioning off of their engines, and it requests that airlines purchase ground equipment that is all-electric.

“John Wayne has been very proactive in this area. Our taxi fleet is all alternative fuel,” she said. The airport doesn’t purchase those vehicles but requires that vendors provide vehicles with alternative fuel sources.

“As an airport operator, we can require those who do business on our facility . . . that they make that investment,” said Wiercioch. “It’s not an incentive, it’s a requirement.”

More Green Airport Fund Sources

Airports have a mixed bag of incentives and funding sources to continue their Green Projects. These include setting airport fees (where appropriate) that encourage operators to acquire only natural gas or equivalent vehicles and requiring vendors to use alternative fuel sources.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 released $300 million in new funding to the EPA to reduce diesel emissions through its DERA program. The FAA VALE airport grant program continues to offer funding to qualified airport projects.

Future funding approaches will likely involve a combination of grants, incentives and transportation technology consultants to guide airports through the complex application process to sources of project income.