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Courthouse and jail go green with solar

The Hamilton County Courthouse and Justice Center have something new-a total of 80 solar panels for heating water.

The panels are part of a $20 million dollar project the county says is at no additional cost to taxpayers. With the help of contractors, Hamilton County chose these buildings because they had flat roofs and available space.

The Justice Center:

For the past eight months inmates at the jail have been taking showers with water heated by the panels. When solar heat is not available, heat pump water heaters and steam-to-water heat exchangers take over.

Director of Facilities Ralph Linne says he is very pleased with the results. "What's interesting is the solar panels, particularly the ones on the justice center, (have) kept the temperature of the water at the temperature that we were guaranteed that it would. Also, you realize when there is snow out there you get better reflection, so yes, they are working fine."

Even Thursday, a cloudy day, Senior Building Manager Joe Merkt estimated the panels heated the water nine degrees. With sun, that temperatures goes up to 140 degrees.

The Courthouse:

The system serving the Courthouse consists of 50 roof mounted solar panels and 10 storage tanks located in the mechanical room.  This system is used to provide hot water for the courthouse.   When solar heat is not available, steam-to-water heat exchangers provide the heat.

The county can't store the sun's energy for uses other than heating water according to assistant facilities director Tony Matre because of cost and lack of space.

The specs:

  • The system is Sun Equinox with Apricus solar panels
  • 30 panels are on the Justice Center with 10 storage tanks in the mechanical room
  • The Courthouse has 50 panels with 10 storage tanks

Facilities managers say the county is saving money because they are reducing electricity and natural gas for hot water. The approximate payback is 10 years.