Hillsborough County unveils major solar power installation on its Tampa courthouse

10/15/10 Joshua Lee Holton
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This morning the Hillsborough County’s Old Main Courthouse building unveiled a solar photovoltaic system that will now power 40% of the building’s energy needs thanks to a federal stimulus grant. Nationwide, 2.7 billion dollars have been set aside for energy efficiency as part of the 2009 Recovery Act. Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner announced that Hillsborough County has been putting some of those dollars to work.

And the solar powered system on the county courthouse is more than just new green renovation, it’s a record breaking move for Hillsborough County.

The energy savings from the new solar panels will save the county an estimated $60,000, and reduce the building’s CO2 emissions by more then 260 tons per year. The public can track the energy savings using a large touchscreen display. The hope is that this will help engage the public in watching energy usage. Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank tried to bring energy innovation into public schools when she was on the school Board 30 years ago.

And some critics of the Recovery Act still think the time has not come for energy innovations, since the funding comes from the federal government instead of the states. Jennifer Holman is the local energy grant project officer for the US Department of Energy, and says the funding will reflect the needs of each state.

The company Ecotechnologies installed the solar system on the courthouse, and hired about 12 workers to complete the project. Democratic Representative Kathy Castor said that it’s nice to see Florida creating new jobs in spite of unemployment and economic turmoil.

The system will work effectively for about 35 years, and will begin to generate a profit for the county in half that time.

Hillsborough County’s Energy Manager Randy Klindworth said that manufacturing costs are currently too high, with solar systems taking 15 or more years to pay for themselves. He said a 5 or 10 year payback rate would be far more effective. Andrew Tanner is with Ecotechnologies, and says this could happen with Renewable Energy Policy in Florida.

This week Tanner was at the Solar Power International conference in California, where US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed off on four solar power projects to be built on public lands; providing 1.2 gigawatts of power, just from solar energy.

Even Republican County Commissioner Al Higginbotham praised the project. He also said that each person should be more energy efficient by using more public transit.

Higgenbotham notes that while this project is a good step, it’s not a cure for local energy needs, as more work needs to be done. Representative Castor agrees with Ecotechnologies’ Tanner in supporting a statewide renewable energy standard.

Lobbying the state legislature isn’t easy though, especially with special interests throwing millions of dollars at congress to ensure that their interests are represented.

And Representative Castor says that more local renewable energy also means less dependence on foreign oil, fewer carbon emissions, more jobs, and could save taxpayers thousands of dollars every year at a time when the budget is a difficult problem. Castor is running for reelection to Congress in District 11 against Republican Mike Prendergast.

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