Seeing the light | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Seeing the light

David Bunker

Ryan Salm / Sierra Sun / Airport Manager Dave Gotschall holds a solar-powered runway light at Tahoe Truckee Airport.

TRUCKEE – As dusk descends on the Truckee Tahoe Airport, the 500 points of blue light that have brought the airfield state recognition and international attention blink to life.

You wouldn’t think that runway lighting would be such a big deal, but these are no ordinary lights.

Powered by the sun and free of wires, the fixtures cost the airport $133,000 when they were installed two years ago. And as each day passes the money the airport doesn’t pay in utility bills is adding up.

“The installation costs would have been $1.2 million,” said airport Manager Dave Gotschall. “We did it for about 10 percent of the cost.”

The energy savings are what drew the attention of the state. The airport, along with East West Partners and the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, were recently honored as exceptional energy savers by California’s “Flex Your Power” campaign.

The airport estimates that it has saved 122,000 kilowatt hours of electricity every year by relying on the power of the sun.

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And now aviation magazines, both national and international, have profiled Truckee Tahoe Airport’s innovative runway lights, and Truckee, which used to be alone in the use of solar taxiway lighting at a general aviation airport, is sure to be joined by others.

“We were the first (general aviation airport) in the nation and, really, the first in the world (to install the lighting),” Gotschall said.

Truckee Tahoe Airport is gaining the attention of other small airports that may have been pensive about installing the lighting because of the cost, said airport assistant manager Mike Scott.

“There are 18,000 airports in the country like us that can benefit from this,” Scott said.

The lighting is now being tested by the Federal Aviation Administration to see if it can be used at larger airports across the nation.

“They’re doing a great job for us,” Scott said of the Light Emitting Diode (LED) lighting. “That’s 500 lights that you are not powering all night.”