WEB EXCLUSIVE: Renewable energy for the Justice Center


We were asked by Polly Berg, Operations Committee chairman, to provide additional information regarding the use of renewable energy in the new Criminal Justice Center. We requested and received a copy of the Amendment to the Utility Feasibility Study. After reading the study, we decided to use the existing report as a point of departure for our comments. Since we have contact with people active in renewable energy and efficiency in Illinois, we asked them for their professional judgments regarding the study. We combined their reactions with ours to form the basis of this paper.


1. The Feasibility Study was overly dismissive of renewable energy and efficiency. It took a conventional approach to design and ignored the difficult energy situation that could prevail over the useful life of the Justice Center. For example, two Shell Oil executives were recently dismissed for having overestimated their oil reserves by 20 percent. Peak oil scientists claim world oil supplies are at their maximum now, and their gradual decline implies higher energy costs.

The European Union accepts the reality of global climate change and is working toward securing 10 percent of their energy needs from renewable sources by 2010. The Pentagon accepts the reality of global climate change and recently developed an action plan to deal with potential social disruptions resulting from it.

These concerns point out that a forward-looking building design would place a higher priority on strategies to use energy efficiently and consider renewable energy sources in a less dismissive manner.

2. The Feasibility Study uses data from small, old systems some distance north of Rockford as a database to present a pessimistic case against the use of solar electricity. Each of the three schools cited in northern Wisconsin has a very small system of only 2 kW, yet the report claims that such small systems are typical of those being installed today.

PV systems being installed today are much larger. Additionally, the installed costs of such systems have dropped nearly 50 percent since the Wisconsin systems were installed in 1997.

Last year, a 50 kW system was installed in Sublette in Lee County, an hour south of Rockford.

A new jail opened in Santa Rita, Calif., has a 1.8 MW system on its roof.

Uni-Solar of Michigan just announced a 1.25 MW order for its solar electric roofing material, which serves both as a roof and a source of electricity, further reducing the cost of solar electricity.

3. The Feasibility Study does not mention grants or other funding sources. A grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will cover 50 percent of the cost of a renewable energy system. An additional grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation can cover, additional 20 percent of the cost.

In addition to these grants, a PV system owner can sell the cleanliness of solar electric systems for an additional value of up to $0.05 per kilowatt hour.

4. Life cycle costs for the pv system were not based on Illinois data. Spire Solar Chicago, the largest installer of systems in Illinois, could have been contacted to provide a database for estimating lifecycle costs. Commonwealth Edison maintains data on the performance of each installed PV system in their service area. That data might be available to analyze the economic performance of solar electric systems in northern Illinois.

5. Solar power can also be used to heat water. Solar Service of Niles has been installing and servicing solar hot water systems in Illinois for 30 years. The company recently submitted a grant proposal to secure $210,000 for a $300,000 solar hot water system that will meet 70 percent of the hot water needs of a 70-unit apartment building in Chicago. With grants, the system will pay for itself in seven years. The use of such a system at the Justice Center was not considered and should be

6. Heat pumps were dismissed as noisy and expensive. The heat pump system described in the Feasibility Study was not typical of the larger, quiet systems now employed in new hospitals and detention facilities. Comments that heat pumps increase the cost of cooling buildings stood in marked contrast to the views of people familiar with them. Heat pumps are widely recognized as energy sources that help to cut cooling costs. The Rebuild America program and the U.S. Department of Energy have useful computer programs and technical assistance to assess the performance of heat pump systems. It was recommended that data generated from those sources should be used to reconsider the potential of ground water heat pumps for use in the Criminal Justice Center.

A Muscatine, Iowa, County Board member is seeking state legislative approval to allow city water to be used in a heat exchanger to serve as an energy source to heat and cool a recently constructed county jail. The doubling of natural gas prices since the jail was built suggests a ground water heat pump system could cut the consumption of natural gas and pay for itself in seven years.

The 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. They offered a guided tour of their jail to Winnebago County Board members to share what they have learned about the efficient use of energy after the jail was in operation. He is also willing to share the information he has collected for the possible use of ground water heat pumps in public buildings in Muscatine.

7. The Feasibility Study provided conflicting information regarding engine-powered corgeneration units, then dismissed the technology. In one part of the study, payback periods of five and seven years were cited. Yet, in the conclusion portion of the study, a payback period of 10 years was cited as a reason not to consider using corgeneration. Readers were left with the question of why the payback period was lengthened and used to justify not using cogeneration. Co-generation is a well established and widely used technology and should be reconsidered for possible use.

8. Sick building syndrome concerns were raised as if they were likely to occur if technologies other than those preferred by the architect were used. The report raised the issue of sick building syndrome but failed to point out that such problems arise from design problems rather than the technologies used to heat and cool the buildings. If problems do arise, they can be identified and corrected.

9. Ice can lower the cost of cooling. Several commercial buildings in downtown Chicago near the Palmer House use low-cost electricity in the evening to make ice, which is used to cool the buildings during the heat of the day when electricity is much more expensive. This energy alternative was not considered and should be.

10. Overall building efficiency was not addressed in the Feasibility Study available to us. It is very important to provide data regarding the overall efficiency of the building envelope, its lighting system, the motors used, the placement of windows and the efficiency of technologies, such as computers, used in the building. All of these factors affect the heating and cooling needs of a building.

Heating and cooling needs have a dramatic impact on the cost of operating a building. Building operating costs are very high in the new Muscatine County Jail and they are forcing officials to consider additional capital outlays to reduce their costs. A pre-construction energy efficiency assessment should be done to ensure appropriate measures to reduce energy consumption are incorporated as the new building is constructed so that energy savings are achieved at the least cost.

Computer program studies can accurately predict the amount of energy needed to operate a building based on its anticipated energy demand. Two Illinois consultants were cited as being up to date on pre-construction energy efficiency assessments. One is Helen Kessler, a Chicago architect who has collaborated with the world-renowned Rocky Mountain Institute. Her work could commence as soo

n as a grant to the Clean Energy Community Foundation is submitted in order to meet the May deadline indicated by Gary Burdett of the Durrant Group after the presentation of this paper. If a grant is awarded to Winnebago County, the cost of pre grant work can be included in the grant budget.

A second person cited as being up to date on energy efficiency is John Katrakis, a building engineer from Barrington Hills. He is well known for his work with Green Building Design and has experience with ground water heat pumps and ice chiller cooling systems.

It was also recommended that before all the payments are made for architectural services, the actual energy performance of the building be established. In some cases, a year or more has been required to fine tune energy-consuming systems incorporated into a building. In the new jail in Muscatine, Iowa, some of the energy-consuming equipment did not meet performance expectations and the personnel operating the jail did not fully understand how to program the computers that control the energy services in the building to operate at their maximum efficiency.

The highly sophisticated electronic components built into modern jails along with the computer programs and set points needed to maximize efficient energy use often exceed the knowledge and operating experience of the staff. Sometimes staff are reluctant to make any changes due to the complexity of the systems, which can lead to unnecessarily high operating costs. These complexities must be sufficiently planned for: they may involve training expenses that should be anticipated and accounted for in the building design budget.


The people contacted in developing this response respect the overall work of the Durrant Group, Inc. They indicated, however, that the Amended Utility Feasibility Study suggests the firm may be using design concepts that worked well in the past but fail to capture the cost-effective opportunities to use energy efficiently and incorporate proven alternative and renewable energy technologies into new building construction. The Amended Utility Feasibility Study did not take into account data and financial assistance available in Illinois or draw on the expertise and experience with efficiency and renewable energy technologies readily available within Illinois. It did not consider the financial incentives provided by Illinois to make proven efficiency and renewable energy technologies more financially attractive for new public construction.

Illinois has a wealth of experience, expertise, and financial incentives that should be incorporated into the new Justice Center to dramatically lower the long-term operating cost of the facility.

Major conclusions from this report

Contact should be made with both the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to discuss the programs and resources available to Winnebago County.

A pre-construction energy assessment by a competent Illinois professional should be commissioned to examine the lifecycle costs of various energy efficiency and renewable energy options along with a commitment to install some of the options that the Durrant Group along with Winnebago County Officials conclude will best serve the energy needs of the new Justice Center. A grant from the Clean Energy Community Foundation should be applied for to defray the cost of the study.

While lifecycle cost assessments provide helpful insights into the relative cost of such systems, they do not incorporate the economic benefits that 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. Local officials should keep this consideration in mind when making energy choices for the Justice Center.

A report such as this cannot fully convey the importance of the concepts presented. They need fuller discussion with other energy experts in Illinois. We urge county officials to contact the names provided at the end of this paper. They have all been alerted to the Justice Center project. Direct discussions with them will give officials a better idea of their services and how they will benefit the taxpayers of Winnebago County. If you have any further questions, please feel free to call us to discuss them.

Contacts for assistance

and additional information

Bob Romo, Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, 312-372-5191, bromo@illinoiscleanenergy.org. Provides grants for energy-efficient building design (should be the first call made).

Helen Kessler and Associates, 773-975-6467. Chicago architect experienced with pre-construction integrated energy-efficient audits (should be the second call made).

John Katrakis, 847-382-6467, Barrington Hills engineer who has worked cooperatively with Helen Kessler; Green Building Design expert also experienced with ground water heat pump installations and ice chillers.

Greg Lenaghan, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, 217-785-3983, greglenaghan@commerce.state.il.us. Institutional Energy Conservation Programs and Community Energy Contact for Rockford.

Rex Buhrmester, 217-557-1926, rex_buhrmester@commerce.state.il.us, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Responsible for grants and rebates for renewable energy systems.

John Root, energy consultant for Muscatine, Iowa, Power and Light, 563-262-3354, jroot@mpw.org. John performed the energy audit on the Muscatine County Jail and is the contact to arrange a tour of the jail with a board member of Muscatine County.

Brandon Leavitt, Solar Service, Inc. Niles, 847-677-0950, solarservice@aol.com. Has installed and serviced solar hot water systems for 30 continuous years in Illinois

Mark Burger, Spire Solar Chicago, 708-267-7965, mburger@spirecorp.com. The largest Illinois installer of solar electric systems on municipal buildings.

Robert Kiessling, 248-364-5772, rkiessling@uni-solar.com. Manufactures building-integrated solar electric roofing materials.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!