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Thursday, March 3, 2011 02:19 pm

The greening of Springfield

LLCC leads the way to renewable energy


Bob Croteau of CWLP explains the operation of a solar panel at the Capital Area Career Center.

Welcome to the most eco-friendly home in Springfield. You’d never guess the carpeting is made of recycled plastic grocery bags, or the bathroom countertops come from recycled cardboard and paper. The speckled rubber flooring of a workroom consists of recycled tires, and the simulated wood deck is actually recycled plastic soda bottles. The place simply appears to be the beautifully designed home of affluent owners. The only clue to their commitment to the environment are the solar panels on the roof.

 The three-year-old house on Spaulding Orchard Road has a passive solar design with a thermal wall rising above gorgeous dark cherry flooring of (hybrid) eucalyptus and other sustainable woods. It was the highlight of a tour given by Bob Croteau for a recent Lincoln Land Community College workshop on renewable energy. An energy auditor with City Water Light and Power who has been involved with solar power since the 1970s, Croteau believes the season has finally arrived for green technology in Springfield. “I used to be able to keep track of all the renewables, but so many are springing up everywhere now, I can’t keep track of them all.”

The tour included a stop at the Southwind Park visitors center, the first building in Springfield to be LEED-certified at the highest platinum level (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). When it received certification in December, Erin’s Pavilion, as it is known, was one of only 209 nonresidential buildings in the world with platinum status in the new construction category. It will soon add a wind generator to its solar panels and 15 geothermal heat pump systems. The Capital Area Career Center has an array of solar panels that track the sun throughout the day as well as throughout the season. At 12 kW, it was the largest solar installation in Springfield until a year ago when a 14 kW array went up on the Fit Club South.

Croteau demonstrates an instrument to assess solar sites.

Three schools in the area – Grant Middle School, Pleasant Plains High School and the PORTA schools in Petersburg – have installed solar panels in the past few years with the help of grants from the Illinois Solar Schools Program. The program, sponsored by the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, aims to educate students about solar energy. In addition to solar panels, PORTA added a geothermal heating and cooling system and a 600 kW wind generator more than a year ago. With electric heat, power bills dropped from about $24,000 to $7,000 per month as a result, according to Matt Brue, PORTA’s superintendent.

The workshop was the first on renewable energy offered for the public by LLCC’s Green Center. It drew homeowners, business people, utility employees and job-seekers wanting to prepare for a shift to a green economy. “Anything with renewable energy will be the key to the future, and I want to get in on it,” said participant Travis Wildman, who plans to enroll in LLCC’s renewable energy workforce certificate program [see LLCC sidebar]. He hopes the certificate will help him land a job as a technician or a supervisor at a wind farm.

Springfield is ahead of many other communities in Illinois in adopting renewable energy, Croteau noted, since CWLP has purchased enough wind power to supply 20 percent of the city’s energy needs [see wind sidebar]. Customers can further offset their carbon footprints – the amount of greenhouse gases generated in powering their homes – to 100 percent by buying renewable energy credits from the utility for about $8 per month. CWLP also has net metering, which means customers with solar panels or windmills can get credit from the utility at the retail rate for any excess energy they generate.

The open design of the “eco-house” allows passive solar heat from the large windows to be dispersed thoughout the house, so that overheating common with earlier solar-designed houses can be avoided

Although Springfield residents and businesses may lag those in other states like Colorado in adopting renewable energy, Croteau said they’ve made impressive strides in making buildings energy efficient. And every dollar spent on energy efficiency saves four dollars in the expense of solar panels needed for a building.

Solar hot air collectors that you build yourself are the cheapest solar alternative at the moment. “For $400 you can put one on the south wall, and you’ll get a lot out of it,” Croteau said. For the more expensive solar electric and hot water panels, federal and state tax credits can cut costs in half. Added incentives for farms and businesses include the investment tax credit and the production tax credit, which is based on the amount of renewable energy generated. “If you’re a farmer or commercial customer, you have almost no reason not to go out and get solar now,” he said. “There are even incentives for not-for-profits, schools, local governments and utilities so everyone can get in the game.”

He is less enthusiastic about wind power “only because it’s oversold and difficult to site in urban areas.” Zoning usually requires wind towers to be at least 110 percent of their height away from buildings and property lines. Residential wind systems are thus best suited for rural areas. Another drawback is their moving parts require more maintenance than solar systems. Furthermore, windmills must be at least 100 feet off the ground for good wind speed and to avoid turbulence from trees and buildings. He said commercial wind farms around Bloomington are “getting great speeds,” at an average of 16.8 m.p.h., but they operate at a height of about 300 feet. Springfield’s average at the same height is not much less at 15.6 m.p.h.

The porch deck is a simulated wood made from recycled plastic soda bottles.

Croteau experienced the boom and bust of renewables 30 years ago when he had a business with two partners that sold solar panels. Since the company folded in the 1980s, he has consulted on solar projects and has led workshops throughout the state on renewable energy. He is optimistic that the dream of renewables, after a long period of dormancy, will be realized at last.

He warned, however, “There are a lot of shysters getting in” on the eco-trend by “greenwashing” products. “You’re going to get marketers calling you with combination solar/wind products, but you’re not going to get anything good in town.” Still he maintained that anyone who researches a product before buying will save money on their power bill no matter which renewable option they choose. “It’s an excellent investment that’s going to give you a good return,” he said. “It’s guaranteed.”

Karen Fitzgerald is a freelance writer living in Pleasant Plains. She can be reached at kmfitz3@yahoo.com.

Rooftop solar collectors provide the only hint that the Spaulding House on Spaulding Orchard Road is considered “the most-eco-friendly” house in Springfield. It is owned by Harv Koplo, who was also the architect for the project.

LLCC gives renewables a green light

The sheer size of the building under construction at Lincoln Land Community College is an indication of the school’s investment in workforce development, and green job training will be the jewel in that crowning achievement. After the $26.1 million Workforce Careers Center is completed next fall, training in renewable energies will join workforce certificate programs already in place for HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), auto mechanics, auto body, culinary arts, welding, construction and truck driving.

Beginning in the spring 2012 semester, the renewable energy workforce certificate program will give students a foundation in energy systems as well as specific training in wind, solar and geothermal technologies. Lincoln Land already offers weatherization training for contractors and, later this spring, will offer them certification in energy efficient building operation.

The green training program is being developed by the college’s Green Center, which became fully staffed last July. Its goal “is to bring more jobs to the area and shift the priority to renewable energy,” explained the center’s manager, Julie Bates. It also promotes sustainability on campus and will help faculty in all disciplines work sustainability and green economy concepts into their curriculums.

LLCC is one of only 12 community colleges in the state to receive funding for staffing of its Green Center through the Illinois Green Economy Network. Supported by state and federal grants, IGEN’s goal is for all of the state’s 48 community colleges to offer green training. Two other facets of IGEN’s mission are community outreach and collaboration with business and government to stimulate the green economy. “Community colleges are in the best position to reach out to the community,” noted Bates.

Last fall the Green Center began holding workshops for the public on various topics, including eating local foods and composting. Workshops on sustainable lawns and landscaping, green building, and renewable energy are scheduled for late spring.

Bob Croteau, who led LLCC’s first community workshop on renewable energies in January and February, noted that LLCC was an early innovator in renewables in the 1980s, when it installed a wind generator and solar hot water system. Although they didn’t last long, he says the college is again leading the way by “getting people ready to go” for the many green opportunities cropping up. —Karen Fitzgerald

Wind power blows into Springfield

The open design of the “eco-house” allows passive solar heat from the large windows to be dispersed thoughout the house, so that overheating common with earlier solar-designed houses can be avoided
It was the Sierra Club’s opposition to CWLP’s plans to build the Dallman 4 coal plant that brought wind energy into Springfield’s power mix. After the environmental group contested the new plant’s air emissions permit under the Clean Air Act in 2006 — as it had for all other coal plants in Illinois in previous years — CWLP negotiated a deal with them to prevent a $150 million construction delay. The Sierra Club dropped its appeal in exchange for a commitment from the utility to buy 120 MW of wind power for 10 years. That capacity translates to about 20 percent of Springfield’s energy consumption.

In 2008 CWLP contracted with two wind farms in northern Iowa for the power over 10 years, locking in a price about half the current going rate. It was also less than half the cost Illinois wind farms along I-55 were charging at the time of the contract. Because CWLP is city-owned and not governed by Illinois Commerce Commission rules, it does not have to buy renewable energy from Illinois suppliers if available, as do most other investor-owned utilities in Illinois.

The Illinois Renewable Standard passed in 2007 requires ICC utilities to buy 6 percent of their power from renewable sources in 2011, ramping up to 25 percent by 2025. The law gave Illinois the second most aggressive renewable targets in the nation, according to Ameren Illinois spokesman Leigh Morris. With CWLP already at 20 percent, noted CWLP chief engineer Eric Hobbie, “We’re almost 10 years ahead of where the rest of the state is.”

Most of the Sierra Club agreement was codified in a 2006 city ordinance introduced by Alderman Judy Yeager. In addition to the wind purchases, it called for CWLP to shutter an inefficient 1930s-era coal plant, apply the most stringent emissions limits ever for a new coal plant, retrofit existing plants to burn coal more cleanly and efficiently, and expand customer conservation programs. As a result of these measures, greenhouse gas emissions for Springfield are not far off targets called for in the Kyoto Protocol, according to Power magazine. In naming Dallman 4 its 2009 Plant of the Year, the magazine commended CWLP, among other things, “for negotiating an unprecedented settlement with the Sierra Club.”

The utility views the efficiency improvements as a wise investment. The Dallman 4 plant, which went online in 2009, costs 20 percent less to operate than the next most efficient plant. For a $5.6 million investment in retrofitting existing plants and design changes on Dallman 4, the utility estimates it will save $18 million over 30 years, according to Amber Sabin, CWLP’s public information officer.

Will Reynolds, chair of the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club, praises CWLP for its actions. “The naysayers who predicted that wind power would be outrageously expensive have been proven wrong,” he told IT in an e-mail. He added that the efficiency studies CWLP carried out for the agreement allowed the utility to get federal stimulus grants for efficiency improvements that go beyond the agreement. –Karen Fitzgerald


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