County partners with airport to get energy center off the ground

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114608557328286.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jason Carson Wilson’, ‘Mayor Larry Morrissey and Rockford Park District's Tim Dimke speak during an April 20 press conference to announce the propsed Freedom Field Energy Technology Center at the Rockford/Chicago International Airport.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114608564528286.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jason Carson Wilson’, ‘A Rockford Park District hybrid vehicle on display at the Chicago/Rockford International Airport after the press conference announcing the new Freedom Field Energy Technology Center.’);

A one-of-a-kind renewable energy center could be here within the year. Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen announced the anticipated creation of the proposed Freedom Field Energy Technology Center during an April 20 press conference.

Winnebago County, Rockford, Loves Park and Machesney Park are all behind the project.

Freedom Field Energy Technology Center will be the project’s home. Chicago/Rockford International Airport Chairman Mike Dunn said the airport’s happy to support the project, which would produce solar, wind, methane and hydrogen energy.

The 10-acre site, located on the south side of the airport, would include a research facility. It would also include solar and wind power generation equipment, which would be used to produce energy and become a source of new technologies.

The project calls for a 40,000/square-foot research center, methane and hydrogen energy sources as well as a fueling station for hydrogen vehicles.

Rockford Park District will also construct Sportscore, including four baseball and 10 soccer fields on the site.

“There’s no question in our minds that this is the place for this project,” Dunn said.

He also acknowledged the airport’s hesitancy to get involved with the project.

“We were waiting for a partner to step up,” Dunn said.

Winnebago County became that partner. He was responding to a comment by Rock Valley College Regional Energy Program’s Bob Lindstrom.

“We’ve been waiting patiently for (the project) to come back to life,” Lindstrom said.

He also stressed the project offers possible solutions to a worldwide problem.

“Before we go to war with China over what (fuel) is left, we ought to consider alternatives,” Lindstrom said.

“It will launch Winnebago County into a new direction,” Christiansen said.

Before the center becomes a reality, a four-month feasibility study must be completed. A successful study would be followed by six months of planning and about four months to design the project, Christiansen said.

According to a press release, construction would take about 11 months, while commissioning of the project would take about five months.

But money is needed. Christiansen said applying for U.S. Department of Energy grant money is on the agenda.

“We want to get in line really quickly,” Christiansen said.

He said they’d seek between $3.5 and $5 million in federal, state and private funding for the initial planning stage. Those funds include $100,000 in Winnebago County tipping fees and $50,000 in federal funds sought by U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-16).

Hamilton-Sundstrand Engineering Systems and Technology Director William Kroll said Manzullo has also given inspiration as well as money. Kroll said he always challenges Hamilton-Sundstrand to leverage technology to create jobs. Hamilton-Sundstrand will be the new center’s primary technology provider.

“We have an absolutely fabulous opportunity to respond to that challenge,” he said.

But Chicago/Rockford International Airport Executive Director Bob O’Brien said he doesn’t want the project solely funded with grants.

“That’s certainly not the vision at all,” O’Brien said.

He said the definition of skilled labor has evolved, and new industries are transforming the economy. According to Christiansen, the Freedom Field energy center represents a great departure from Rockford’s traditional industries.

“What happens (there) could well end our dependence on foreign fuel sources,” he said.

Christiansen said the initial feasibility study is slated to take about four months to complete. He said planning the center’s development should take about six months. According to Christiansen, the center would help the region’s economy.

“This area is not content to sit and watch jobs move away,” he said.

Manzullo seconded that.

“Some cities in some areas would just give up,” he said, referring to reactions to job losses.

Rather, he said, the area is taking part in the formation of a northern Illinois renewable energy corridor, which would pool energy sources together.

O’Brien said new jobs could be on the horizon in about two years. But Christiansen said he couldn’t put a number on them.

“We haven’t gotten that far,” he said.

The project could also dramatically cut down the airport’s energy bills, he said. According to O’Brien, the entire airport could be run with hydrogen.

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey said rising gas prices make the energy center a must-have

“With necessity being the mother of invention, we’ve got a lot of necessity,” he said.

Larson and Darby Group’s Doug Brooks stressed the new project would leave the fields adjacent to the site, including the Bell Bowl from the old Camp Grant complex, intact. Larson and Darby Group is a Rockford-based firm of architects, planners and engineers.

From the April 26-May 2, 2006, issue

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