OAKLAND -- A new $33 million air traffic control tower with solar panels, water recycling and underground heating is in the works for Oakland International Airport, the latest environmentally friendly project for the facility and part of an overall movement toward greener facilities for Bay Area airports.

The new tower is funded by the Recovery Act and will put 650 people to work during its three years of construction, officials said at the groundbreaking Friday.

"This is the biggest project we have," said Randy Babbitt of the Federal Aviation Administration, referring to the fact that the $33 million comprises the FAA's largest single Recovery Act award. "We're delivering on the president's promise to create jobs."

Deborah Ale Flint, the Port of Oakland's aviation director, said, "We have the first airport building in the nation to get silver LEED certification."

The airport's renovated Terminal 2 satisfied certain standards including energy efficiency and water conservation set by the U.S. Green Building Council, winning the certification in March. The LEED system gives four awards: basic, silver, gold and platinum.

"Now we hope for gold certification for this tower when it's completed. Silver plus gold equals green," Flint said to applause from the audience of about 100 public servants and airport workers in attendance.


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The airport's policies are in tune with those of Oakland. The city was deemed one of the country's Top Ten smarter cities for energy with more than 250,000 residents in 2010 by the National Resources Defense Council.

The airport's new 236-foot-tall tower will replace two other towers that are about 50 feet shorter, Flint said in an interview after her speech. Construction is expected to be finished in late 2013.

"About 30 percent of the tower's electricity will come from solar panels when the sun is shining," said Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman. Technically, the tower belongs to the FAA. "It will use an underground system for heating and air conditioning." In addition to the LEED-certified Terminal 2 and the new tower, planes parked overnight at the airport can plug into a power grid.

The Oakland airport is not alone in its approach.

"It's definitely a trend for airports to focus on sustainability," said David Vossbrink, a spokesman for Mineta San Jose International Airport.

The San Jose airport won LEED silver certification in September for the concourse of its new Terminal B. The concourse uses natural light, and its energy efficiency exceeds energy standards by 23 percent by using occupancy sensors for lighting, a programmable lighting control system and other features.

The airport's forklifts and tractors are mostly electric vehicles, with electric charging systems throughout the airport, Vossbrink said.

Similarly, San Francisco International Airport has two natural gas stations for its vehicles, which mostly run on natural gas or biodiesel or are hybrids, said Mike McCarron, an airport spokesman.

"We are remodeling Terminal 2 with a high-tech ventilation system that uses less energy to heat and cool the building. It will have places to refill water bottles in addition to regular drinking fountains," McCarron said. "We're shooting for a silver

LEED certification."

San Jose's Vossbrink said, "In general, it's a good thing for public buildings across the country to focus on sustainability."