Options for a City of Rockford Renewable Energy Program (CORREP)

Options for a City of Rockford Renewable Energy Program (CORREP)

By John Richter, Independent Energy Consultant

1) Energy Efficiency for Municipal Buildings

The city of Chicago and 48 municipalities have pledged to purchase 20% of their electricity from green sources in five years. Rockford could go one better. The city of Rockford could pledge to reduce its electrical power usage by 20% in five years. An energy reduction goal would be more ecologically and financially sound than a green power purchase goal. It would also make headlines. Green power still requires the construction and maintenance of a transmission and distribution system while energy efficiency postpones transmission upgrades. Green power costs somewhat more than conventional energy while energy efficiency measures pay for themselves. Green power means sending more money out of the city while efficiency measures can keep the money in town.

Consider these examples:

l Replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents reduces the energy used by 75%. Replacing the common T-12 fluorescents tubes with the newer, more efficient T8 tubes can save 30%.

l Replacing existing incandescent “Exit” signs with new signs powered by LEDS can save 90-94% of the power used, 24 hours a day.

l About 65% of all electricity used in the industrial sector runs motors. Replacing older motors with correctly sized, super-efficient motors can save 30%.

Although the best financial payback periods will come from energy efficiency measures, some high-profile renewables projects can be included to broaden support for the proposal.

Funding of these measures could be raised on a tax-free basis by issuing municipal revenue bonds. The revenue bonds would be paid back with funds that the city would have otherwise spent on utility bills. Most of the work would be lighting and HVAC retrofit, which would be done by local contractors. Rockford may already have manufacturers producing suitable equipment, and this initiative could generate business for them.

2) Million Solar Roofs—Rockford Partnership

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Million Solar Roofs Initiative (MSRI) has partnered with the city of Chicago. The state of Wisconsin, and the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association (GLREA, based in Dimondale, Michigan). By partnering with the DOE, Rockford could receive grant money to cover the marketing and administration costs of a solar energy deployment initiative. Rebates and grants from the Illinois DCCA would make these systems highly cost effective. A revolving loan fund could be set up to further reduce the up-front cost. This would be a three-pronged marketing initiative targeting various energy consumers in the city:

A) Rockford MSRI would encourage homeowners to install cost-effective solar water heaters. Informational brochures on these systems would be distributed. A list of licensed area contractors would be provided. Referrals of satisfied area customers would be available. The initiative could also act as an aggregator of sales of identical systems to achieve lower-cost bulk purchasing. Additional funding for low-income housing may also be available at the state or federal level.

B) Specific businesses (such as laundromats and restaurants) would be target marketed as logical choices for solar thermal systems. Local contractors, trained in auditing the businesses’ needs and correctly sizing the solar thermal system, would be used. Tours of successful installations would encourage others to follow.

C) Industrial plants with process heat needs would be targeted for large-scale solar thermal systems. The Rockford MSRI could host a conference on industrial scale solar systems and draw in experts and operators of existing systems from around the country. Plant operators could be offered a free consulting period with industry experts to evaluate the potential for their plant.

By partnering with the DOE, Rockford would receive federal funds, get free publicity from the DOE, and gain access to national experts. The Illinois DCCA would pick up half the cost of the actual installations. With sufficient success on area installations, solar thermal manufacturers would have reason to consider relocating or expanding into Rockford.

3) Solar (PV and Hot Water) Installs on Municipal Buildings

Perhaps in conjunction with projects (1) or (2) above, the city could install PV and/or hot water systems on highly visible municipal buildings. The National Park Service has a number of solar installations in parks receiving thousands of visitors each year. The highway rest areas in Ohio have highly visible solar hot water systems. Installations where the public can see and learn about them, promote public awareness and stimulate private investment in solar systems.

In addition to the Illinois DCCA funds, funding for these sorts of demonstration projects are available from a number of sources. While some city funds would likely be necessary as “matching funds”, these should be quickly recouped via lower operating expenses.

4) Rockford Solar Schools

The U.S. DOE Solar Schools program is funding the school curriculum in conjunction with the installation of solar PV and hot water systems on schools throughout the country. GLREA is the DOE partner for the state of Michigan. In addition to the value of the energy captured by the systems, the schools gain the value of an educational tool. Information about the solar system is worked into the existing science program, with direct correlations to the science testing programs of the state. Metering on the system allows students to monitor the output of the system and write quantitative lab reports.

While the city doesn’t have administrative control of the school district, the mayor and/or the council have significant influence. Local businesses may wish to assist in financing a school project as a public relations program. In Michigan, one of the major utilities funded the development of the curriculum and then donated it.

5) Rockford Area Landfill Gas Projects

Of all renewable energy sources, landfill gas often has the best economics. Projects utilizing methane gas currently formed, collected and burned at landfill sites to generate electricity have been successful all around the nation. The power produced is generally sold directly to the local utility. Alternatively, power may be sold directly to local industry, bypassing the utility altogether. There are a number of landfills in the Rockford area which might be suitable for such a project (Peoples Avenue, Sandhill Park, Pagel). By championing cost-effective gas projects and purchasing the “green” power, Rockford could match the green power challenge laid down by the DOE and Chicago with competitively priced green power.

6) Ethanol Plant for Rockford

Most gasoline sold in the U.S. today is actually a blend of gasoline and ethanol (grain alcohol). Since 1980, the ethanol industry has been growing at a rate of 12% per annually, with at least 58 plants operating in the U.S. Studies show that 80% of all revenue generated by an ethanol facility is spent within a 75-mile radius of the plant—an excellent opportunity for local economic development. The primary feedstock for ethanol production is corn. An industrial city with good rail lines surrounded by cornfields seems like a perfect place to locate an ethanol plant. Minnesota has captured a large share of the industry by offering tax incentives, but these are capped. Rockford could market its advantages and sweeten them with some sort of tax incentives to bring this industry into Rockford.

7) Biodiesel Plant for Rockford

Biodiesel is a fuel made from vegetable oil or used fryer grease from restaurants through a very simple chemical process. It can be used in any diesel engine exactly like diesel fuel. The DOE is very interested in this technology, and grants are available for biodiesel development. With only seven plants operating in the country today, this is a young, high-growth industry. Recent changes to the federal Epact requirements for fleet vehicles have greatly expanded the market.

By using a biodiesel blend (B20, which is 20% biodiesel) in its city vehicles, Rockford can generate “green” headlines and a local market for this product. With Rockford’s excellent railway connections and local supply of both feedstocks, a local market for the product should attract a biodiesel plant to Rockford, providing local jobs.

8) Anaerobic Digester for Livestock Methane—Regional Contractor

Farms with large herds of livestock face increasing pressures to reduce the odors and nutrient-rich runoff from their operations. This is especially true in operations located near expanding suburbs. The farming region in northern Illinois is a perfect example. One solution to this problem is to construct an enclosed “anaerobic digester” (AD) in which bacteria break down livestock manures. Methane gas is given off by this process and is typically used to run a large engine, producing both electricity and hot water. The Illinois DCCA has 50% grants available for these projects. Federal funds may also be available. In addition to farm wastes, ads can be used to digest wastes from food processing facilities.

Installation of anaerobic digesters is a sizable construction, plumbing and electrical project. With its industrial base and being surrounded by farms, Rockford offers an excellent base from which these companies can operate. The city or the Council of 100 could facilitate this by working with ad companies to define their needs and provide a complete package of the services they need using local companies.


These eight programs are just a sample of initiatives I could help launch in the city of Rockford. Program specifics can be filled in and additional funding sources found under contract.

Reprinted by permission of the author.

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