Solar panels provide backup power for Liberty Lake police


If Liberty Lake loses power in the next ice storm, Liberty Lake police will still be able to function thanks to the recent installation of solar panels on the roof of the police station.

The panels furnish power to the station and keep a large bank of batteries fully charged as an emergency power source.

The department, which previously didn’t have a backup power source, will now be able to run its computer servers and recharge cell phones, portable radios, laptops and flashlight batteries for at least 72 hours. All those things are vital for officers to function, said police Chief Brian Asmus. “If we lose our computers, we don’t have access to records management or criminal histories,” he said. “The batteries aren’t doing anything but being charged when we have power.”

The panels and batteries were paid for with a $135,000 grant from the Department of Energy and the Washington State Department of Commerce. The city of Liberty Lake provided matching funds of nearly $22,000.

The 60 solar panels span 162 feet. The panels will generate an estimated 17,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. The average home uses about 12,000 kilowatt hours a year, Asmus said. During peak times, if the system produces more energy than the station uses, it will be sold back to Avista at 18 cents per kilowatt hour.

“We’ll be using that energy on a daily basis,” he said. “Obviously it’s a big building and it’s not going to be able to power everything.”

The police department is taking other measures to conserve electricity, including installing different light bulbs and putting motion detectors in some rooms so the lights will turn off if no one is in the room. The addition of the system also means the police station can be used as a short-term emergency shelter.

As part of the grant, the department is required to provide an educational component. For that reason the bank of 24 batteries is encased in clear plastic so visitors can see them. The department will also set up a Web page with information on the system as well as a real-time reading of how much energy the solar panels are producing. “If you have full sun and a cloud comes over, you will be able to see it drop,” he said.

The panels and batteries took a couple of weeks to install. The system is the first of its kind in this area. Asmus said he is aware of only one city on the west side of the state that has solar panels on a public building.

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