County studies solar plant at Palmdale airport

Land purchased decades ago in Palmdale for an intercontinental jetport that was never built might become a solar power plant under a proposal advanced Monday by the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners.

The board voted to solicit the ideas of energy companies and utilities interested in constructing a solar farm on part of the 17,750 acres that Los Angeles World Airports bought in the early 1970s for more than $100 million.

Solar project: An article in Tuesday’s LATExtra section about a proposal to build a solar power plant in Palmdale carried the headline “County studies solar plant at Palmdale airport.” As the article noted, the project is being considered by the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners. —

“This is a potentially excellent use of that land as we wait for an airport,” said commission President Alan Rothenberg.

Planners had envisioned a global airport capable of handling supersonic transports and 100 million passengers a year, but the property has yet to be developed as an alternative to Los Angeles International Airport.

Using U.S. Air Force runways, the city’s airport department has offered limited passenger service at Palmdale since the 1970s, the last of which — United Airlines — ceased operations in December 2008. The terminal and administration building are now closed.

Airport officials say that a solar power plant could provide a profitable use for a large portion of the vacant land as well as a source of renewable energy that would not interfere with plans for a commercial airport.

Los Angeles airport officials’ projections suggest it could take years, if not decades, before the travel market is strong enough in the Antelope Valley to attract airlines back to the site. Meanwhile, officials say, the solar farm could generate money to pay for the maintenance of the site as well as other expenses.

Airport officials say that about 7,500 to 10,000 acres are available for the project, leaving the rest for a commercial airport.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who represents northeast Los Angeles County, has been concerned that a solar facility might interfere with recent efforts by him and the city of Palmdale to restore airline service to the Antelope Valley.

“This land, which was acquired through eminent domain, should be used as an airport or relinquished to the people from whom the land was taken in the first place,” said Tony Bell, a spokesman for Antonovich.

Bell added that Los Angeles World Airports should give up control of the property to allow Palmdale to move forward with a plan to obtain the lease that Los Angeles World Airports had with the Air Force to use its runways at Plant 42, an aerospace facility.

The Los Angeles airport department became interested in a solar plant in August after a study recommended that the agency develop a renewable energy project on the site. If airport commissioners are satisfied with the responses they get from interested parties, it would clear the way for competitive bids.