With a solar thermal heating and cooling system “99 percent done,” officials running the Freedom Field project are preparing for the next phases at the renewable-energy development facility. The goal is to have a biomass project, a wind power project and a solar project completed by fall, in time for the International Bio Energy Days event in September.

With a solar thermal heating and cooling system “99 percent done,” officials running the Freedom Field project are preparing for the next phases at the renewable-energy development facility.

The goal is to have a biomass project, a wind power project and a solar project completed by fall, in time for the International Bio Energy Days event in September.

Freedom Field is located at the Rock River Water Reclamation District’s Kishwaukee Street campus. Its backers hope that it will become a showplace for alternative and renewable energy technology that will help revitalize the region’s economy.

“The long and short of it is, we want to be able to provide energy at a lower cost than the going rate,” said Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen. “I think that will make us an attractive option when companies decide if they want to locate here.”

Christiansen has been one of the biggest supporters of the project and $100,000 of county money has gone to help develop and outfit the site, which was initially going to be at the airport but was moved when it was determined that the selected site was at risk for potential flooding.

Chet Kolodziej, secretary and treasurer of the nonprofit board that oversees the project, said that so far retrofitting the building and installing the heating and cooling system has come in under the $525,000 budget. 

“The best way to describe thermal heating and cooling is, you might use natural gas to run the furnace and the air conditioner to heat and cool your home,” Kolodziej said. “We use the sun.”

The 170,000 BTU system can heat and cool the 4,000 square feet of space being occupied by Freedom Field. The system includes solar-thermal collectors mounted on the roof of the building, which capture heat energy from the sun to fuel an absorption chiller. During the warm months, the absorption chiller will use the heat to produce cool water to cool the space.

Kolodziej said the next phases will likely cost just under $1 million to develop. That’s roughly $700,000 for the bio transfer, $100,000 for the wind, and $125,000 for solar.

Christiansen said that as the technology develops, he foresees permanent training and education programs at Freedom Field.

“If you just think of the (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) being able to train on the wind turbines, those are the kinds of skills that are going to be more and more in demand,” he said.

Janyce Fadden, who runs the Rockford Area Economic Development Council, said Freedom Field holds a lot of promise. The RAEDC gave $90,000 as seed money to the project to help it get matching grants.

“This helps establish our region as a leader in alternative and renewable energy,” she said. But she stopped short of saying that the project was a panacea for the region. “I’m glad they’ve completed this step and we got this far. Now, we have to concentrate on getting ready for the Bio Days festival here.”

“There’s big opportunity here,” Christiansen said. “A lot of places are looking at renewable energy, but not many, if any, are looking at how they integrate with one another. … That sets us apart.”

Mike Wiser can be reached at (815) 987-1410 or mwiser@rrstar.com.