Solar project a win-win for Parks and Rec

By ADAM LAPIERRE

News staff writer

July 1, 2006

The Hood River Valley Aquatic Center has a variety of summer activities planned for its waters. From the Hood River Ospreys and the Hood River Masters swim team practices to kayak roll sessions, a kids’ triathlon, open swimming and birthday parties, the pool will see plenty of use during the hot summer months.

Of course, there is nothing new about that; the pool has been a cooling-off hot spot since it was constructed in 1948.

What is new, however, is pool users will soon be sunbathing and swimming in waters heated by what will be the largest solar hot water array in the Northwest. The existing natural gas heating system will, once the project is completed in a couple of weeks, be the secondary heating source for the pool from about March to September each year. When the sun is out this summer, the 281,000 gallon pool will be heated to its 83-degree temperature entirely by solar energy.

“The system should pay for itself in about 10 years,” said Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Scott Baker. “This project is a perfect example of a win-win situation. It is very environmentally friendly and it makes great economic sense. I think it’s important for public agencies to do projects like this so people can see positive alternatives in action. Hopefully this project will be an inspiration to others and solar energy will spread to the rooftops of Hood River.”

The system is simple. Each of the four solar panels consists of about a mile of black plastic tubing. The panels will be connected to each other and a new pump system will push the pool water through the tubes. The system will circulate the entire volume of the pool through the panels in about six hours. From March through September the natural gas boiler will be used only as a secondary source. The panels will then be drained and flushed clean before the first freeze of the fall.

The price tag for the panels, the pump, piping, a new control panel, a new high-efficiency boiler and installation is about $273,000. The successful bidder for the project was a company called Enertia Energy, Inc. Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation District received about $90,000 in grants and tax credits, leaving the remaining balance to be paid by the district. With a 23 percent increase in natural gas prices this year alone, the long-term benefits of the project are clear. The lifespan of the plastic tubing in the panels is 20-plus years, which means after the first 10 years of paying for itself, the system will save the HRVPRD at least $273,000.

“The payback for solar heating is so fast,” Baker said. “We also want this to be an educational tool for students and the public. I hope people will see the system and realize it’s an incredibly simple and feasible alternative for use in homes. It’s so simple, in fact, it’s almost ludicrous that they aren’t on every rooftop in the U.S.”

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