Energy savings for the justice center

n Solar power, ground water heat pumps, co-generation are all considerations for new jail

The Winnebago County Board is considering ways to make the new justice center more energy efficient and to incorporate renewable energy sources. Polly Berg, Operations Committee chairman, asked us to provide information to help make this possible. We compiled the judgments of Illinois renewable energy experts and the Amendment to the Utility Feasibility Study to provide recommendations. This column is a summary of our report, available online at

Renewables and efficiency help reduce the uncertainty surrounding energy supplies and costs. They also provide local jobs and environmental benefits.

Grants can cover significant portions of the costs of renewable energy. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will cover 50 percent of the cost of a system. An additional grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation can cover another 20 percent.

In addition to these grants, a renewable energy system owner can sell the cleanliness of the system for up to $0.05 per kilowatt hour.

Solar power is a good source of renewable energy for an urban building. Large, roof-integrated installations have brought down costs significantly. A new jail in Santa Rita, Calif., has a 1.8 megawatt rooftop system.

Solar power can also be used to heat water. Solar Service of Niles, which has been installing and servicing solar hot water systems in Illinois for 30 years, recently submitted a grant proposal for a solar hot water system that will pay for itself in seven years.

Ground water heat pumps are widely recognized as energy sources that help to cut heating and cooling costs. Large, quiet systems are now used in new hospitals and detention facilities.

A Muscatine, Iowa, official indicated that the costs of heating and cooling their new jail were so high that the county commissioned an energy audit after the building was put into service. Doubling of natural gas prices since it was built suggests a heat pump system could pay for itself in seven years.

Co-generation is a well established and widely used technology and should be considered for possible use. Payback periods of five to seven years are common.

Heating and cooling needs have a dramatic impact on the cost of operating a building. Overall building efficiency, including lighting systems, motors, technologies such as computers and window placement, affect heating and cooling needs. Low cost electricity in the evening can be used to make ice to cool the building during the heat of the day when electricity is much more expensive. Several commercial buildings in downtown Chicago use this energy alternative.

Economic benefits accrue to a community when saved energy dollars remain in that community. Every energy dollar retained through efficiency or renewable energy sources can have a positive economic impact approaching $3 for every dollar spent.

Illinois has a wealth of experience, expertise, and financial incentives that can be used to dramatically lower the new Justice Center’s long-term operating costs.

While we do not know which options will be chosen, it’s refreshing to see county officials explore potential applications of renewable energy sources in public buildings.

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