Solar panels could soon sprout over Charlotte Douglas International Airport’s parking decks and between runways, making the airport one of the largest solar energy producers in the state.

The airport put out its request for proposals Monday. Charlotte Douglas is looking for a private company to install and operate the panels, and hopes to have a contract before City Council for approval by late January.

“This is potentially going to bring us into a whole new ballpark,” said Robert Phocas, Charlotte’s energy and sustainability manager.

The new solar panels could cover more than 128 acres at the airport. Charlotte Douglas officials are looking to install panels on canopies above the airport’s long-term parking decks, on the roof of the administrative building and between runways.

The location and total number of solar panels installed will depend on the cost, the airport said. At their maximum density and output, the airport estimates the panels could generate 53 megawatts, easily among the largest projects proposed in the state. But the airport acknowledges that costs and technical hurdles will likely make the actual power generated “less than the stated maximum.”

The project description is less structured than the airport’s pilot solar program. That solar array was installed in 2010 on the roof the CLT Center, an administrative building off Wilkinson Boulevard. Phocas said the city put out exacting specifications for that project.

“The idea is let’s say, “These are the potential areas, so tell us what you can do,'” Phocas said. “What I was hearing from solar developers was, “Don’t restrict us. Let us be creative.”

In addition to the solar array on top of CLT Center, the airport operates solar panels near the fire station on airport property. Charlotte Douglas is an independently-funded city department.

Some of the proposed new solar panels would be out of sight, tucked away between runways or on top of buildings. But some would be highly visible, covering the long-term and daily north parking lots on canopies mounted above the cars.

The parking lot panels make up most of the system’s potential energy output and area, accounting for 40.5 megawatts and 101.5 acres.

Under the proposed agreement, the company would own the solar panels but the city would have the option to buy the system after six years. Phocas said there’s a chance that the airport could use some of the electricity the panels produce, but it’s more likely the energy will be sold to Duke Energy on the electric grid.