Highland, Stephenson County partner on wind turbine to cut jail electric bill

February 04. 2016 3:11PM

Highland, Stephenson County partner on wind turbine to cut jail electric bill

FREEPORT — How can you cut costs at a facility that operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year under state-mandated procedures?

Stephenson County Sheriff Dave Snyders and Jail Administrator Dean Schroeder have explored potential answers to that question in recent years in an effort to save money at the county jail. This year, they hope to implement a long-term solution.

In partnership with Highland Community College’s Wind Turbine Technology department, county officials hope to install a 150-foot wind turbine expected to cut electricity costs by 40 to 70 percent.

Last year, the Stephenson County Jail spent about $108,000 on electricity. Schroeder expects to spend about the same amount during the budget year ending Nov. 30, despite the Stephenson County Board approving just $75,000. His annual costs could drop to $65,000, however, if the turbine results in savings of 40 percent.

The jail houses up to 216 inmates and has certain minimum operating standards that must be maintained, including lighting, Snyders said. Currently, Schroeder is working to install more cost-efficient LED lights, as well as exploring motion-triggered lights and solar panels. The wind turbine is intended to complement those efforts, Snyders said.

“This is our first venture with renewable energy,” Snyders said. “We thought it made sense, and it was determined that we could have a wind tower out here, thereby reducing the cost of our electric (bill) and saving the taxpayers money.”

Through his work as a wind technology instructor at Highland, Dave Vrtol obtained a donated wind turbine from Freedom Field in Rockford; Civil Construction donated crews to transport the turbine’s tower, blades and other mechanical parts to the jail. These efforts followed a two-year wind study Vrtol and his students conducted at the jail to determine the potential for savings.

“What we found is it’s always windy out there,” Vrtol said. “We determined it’s really a prime location for a wind turbine because of where the jail is situated and how the wind blows across the fields. That led into where we are now.”

About $30,000 must be raised before the tower can be erected. The county-college group hopes to acquire grant money through federal programs or organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences to build the concrete pad on which the turbine will rest and hire a company to assemble the pieces.

Vrtol anticipates Highland students enrolled in the wind technology program will take care of any maintenance issues that arise, giving students the practical hands-on experience they might not receive otherwise. He also sees the wind tower’s potential to start conversations about other renewable energy opportunities throughout Stephenson County.

“We want to take advantage of these options and build on it,” Vrtol said. “I’m hoping this plants that seed to get more people on board with solar and wind technologies.”

Karen Patterson: 815-232-0133; Karen.patterson@journalstandard.com; @KarenP_FJS

About the wind turbine

Height: 120 feet from the ground to the nose where the blades connect.

Blade length: 35 feet each.

Blade weight: About 8,000 pounds per blade. Industrial turbine blades can weigh as much as 20,000 pounds.

Hours of operation: It’s expected to operate as long as there is wind. Should wind speeds be too high, a computer sensor in the  turbine will automatically slow or turn off the blades to prevent damage.

Source: Dave Vrtol, Highland Community College wind technology instructor.