Freedom Field’s continuing favorable impacts

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Over the last decade, we have been involved in bringing renewable energy and efficiency to the Rockford area. Of particular interest are developments at the area’s first major renewable energy effort at Freedom Field.

It started at Chicago-Rockford International Airport with an effort to install a few rebuilt windmills and some solar panels on a building. When the cost of refurbishing the building became too expensive, the Rockford Sanitary District made space available.

The initial focus was to create a demonstration site of renewable energy installations, collect data on the performance of each technology, and share it with the public. The vision included a variety of technologies linked together through a computer to maximize the performance of the overall system and obtain live data on each component.

Inherent in creating a model to demonstrate a concept is that developments in the field soon make the model obsolete. We experienced this in Toronto several years ago when a cooperative community effort modified an existing building that became known as the Ecology House. A two-story brick home with a south-facing wall was covered with glazing to absorb the heat of the sun. The home’s insulation was upgraded by adding a thick layer of insulation inside the exterior walls. Efficient lighting and appliances were installed. Rainwater was collected and stored in a cistern in the house to water the organic gardens on an adjacent vacant lot. Faucets to restrict water flow and a composting toilet were installed as well.

Tours of the facility were available for a few years, until visitor interest dwindled.

Freedom Field is nearly fully developed, as only a few odds and ends are left to improve the overall performance of the renewable system. An energy storage unit is being installed that allows the system to function as a micro grid.

Freedom Field has already accomplished its first goal of demonstrating renewable energy technologies. New knowledge and skills gained by those installing and servicing the system are being applied throughout the area.

A newsletter is being developed to provide updates on developments. An expanded education program involving Rock Valley College students will include capstone projects in which students synthesize their learnings. The internship program is being expanded. Upper-level high school students may be involved in renewable energy learnings. A signage system will let the public know the location of Freedom Field.

Additional opportunities to develop energy linkages between Freedom Field and the sewage district may evolve over time. A new water filtering research facility being developed on site reminds us of the strong links between water quality and energy.

The long-anticipated installation of a rebuilt Danish windmill will mark the beginning of efforts to stimulate business and jobs in the area. Other projects focused on business opportunities and jobs are under way.

Much of the credit for what has been and is being accomplished rests with the leadership shown by Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) and the support of the Winnebago County Board.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail

From the Dec. 21-27, 2011, issue

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