Guest Column - September 2009
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Design Corner

Clean & Free Power

By Dave Hammel

In considering solar power for recreation centers, it is important to understand that the traditional evaluation of capital projects often undervalues the fact that energy-saving projects can be paid for with saved operating budget dollars. Once the capital costs are paid, the solar energy is virtually free. Without solar, the recreation centers and taxpayers will continue to pay utility companies for "wasted" energy.

Another factor to consider: Solar systems require little maintenance and will function for decades, much longer than conventional HVAC systems. And since sunshine is free, it is not subject to the ongoing price and supply volatility of traditional electricity generated from natural gas and other fossil fuels.

Don't be discouraged if you are in a state that has considerably fewer "sun days" than Colorado or California. Solar power technology has advanced to the point that it is often the mechanical infrastructure—not the amount of daily sunshine—that is the major factor in whether or not solar power is cost-effective. After all, Germany is the largest solar power producer in the world, and it gets approximately the same amount of sunshine per year as Seattle.

Finally, solar power has had a boom-bust history of development largely because of the uncertainty of government incentives and other rebates. What the government gives, it can take away, but there appears to be a growing consensus that solar power—clean and free—is the fuel of the future.

The existing solar technology is efficient and will only get better. Public opinion polls consistently underscore the public's concern over greenhouse gases and other environmental harm caused by our traditional petroleum-based fuels. Community recreation centers that fail to give serious consideration to the use of solar energy do a disservice not only to the environment, but to the taxpayers and customers who pay to support them.


Dave Hammel is a principal with Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture. Headquartered in Denver, Barker Rinker Seacat has designed more than 150 community recreation centers throughout the country. Hammel was the principal designer for the renovation of the North Boulder Recreation Center in Boulder, Colo., the first LEED-certified recreation center in the country. For more information, visit