Prison Sunshine

Solar panels at Haynesville Correctional Center                                                             Photo courtesy of Virginia Department of Corrections

The Virginia Department of Corrections is getting further into solar energy.

The department has recently completed the construction of a five-acre solar farm at Haynesville Correctional Center.  The correctional facility is a medium- security prison in Richmond County, near the town of Warsaw, in the Northern Neck region of the state.

According to a DOC press release, the solar farm is a 852.72 kW photovoltaic system consisting of 2,508 photovoltaic modules.  DOC estimates that it will produce 16% of the prison’s electrical needs, resulting in an annual savings of $120,000.

The construction of the solar farm was funded with a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The grant program is administered in Virginia by the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy (DMME).

In addition to relying less on fossil fuel energy and saving money, the project had a couple of side effects.  The agency used graduate engineering students from James Madison University to help with the implantation of the project, thereby giving them real-life experience.  Also DOC plans to use offenders to assist VADOC staff in maintaining the solar operation, thereby enabling them to gain job skills, which could improve their chances of successfully reentering society upon release from prison.

This is not the first use of solar power by DOC.  Several years ago, it installed hot water solar panels at St. Brides Correctional Center in Chesapeake.

Comments from the Soapbox 

The Department of Corrections is ideally suited to expand the Commonwealth’s use of solar energy.  The land around its prisons has been cleared of trees for security purposes, thereby maximizing the amount of solar energy that can be captured. (Anyone visiting a prison during the summer can testify to the lack of shade and the steady heat.) The agency also has other large open areas that can be used for solar panels. Much of this land is used for agricultural purposes. Those fields upon which corn and other crops are grown would not be suitable for solar panels, but the pastures used for beef and dairy cattle could be used. Finally, the solar panels would be close to the facilities that would actually use the electricity, thereby limiting transmission costs.

It would probably be feasible to generate all the electricity a prison would need during daylight hours. At night, DOC could use power provided by Dominion or the applicable utility company, possibly at off-peak rates. During cloudy or rainy days, the prison could turn to the grid or use its emergency generators (every prison has them).

DOC officials have indicated that they would like to expand the use of solar power at its prisons. Because such an expansion would result in savings and increase the Commonwealth’s use of renewal energy, the state should actively support DOC in this effort. If additional federal grants are not available, there are other funding sources. One method available would be through the capital budget process, using either general fund cash or bonds.

Another mechanism is the Energy Savings Performance Contracting program administered by DMME and the Department of General Services. Under this program, the state agency enters into a contract in which the vendor guarantees a specified level of energy savings over a specified term. The agency is then authorized to borrow the funds needed for the project, with the value of the energy savings being used to pay the debt service. Using the data from the Haynesville project as an example, DOC would borrow $1.1 million to pay the contractor to install the solar panels. Then it would use the $120,000 electricity savings to pay back the loan, rather sending it to the Northern Neck Electric Coop. After about 10-12 years, the debt would be paid off. If the prison did not realize the savings projected in its agreement with the company installing the solar panels, the company would be obligated to pay the difference. (That is the “performance” component of the contract.)  DOC is very familiar with this program. In fact, one of the latest such contracts it has entered into involved the provision of natural gas, in lieu of propane, to power the boiler plant at Greensville Correctional Center.

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12 responses to “Prison Sunshine

  1. Dick – you’d think blackface Northam and his gang will first master to task of teaching Virginia’s kids the basics of how to read, write, add and subtract. But No, nothing is beyond the reach of blackface and his gang.

    Meanwhile our idiots in Academia across the pond demand more time off from work to save the planet from climate change. This from Brietbart via Watts Up With That?

    “Academics Demand Sabbaticals to Save World from Climate Change

    by THOMAS D. WILLIAMS, PH.D. 31 Oct 2019

    More than 1000 British professors have signed a letter requesting more time off from teaching so they can tackle climate change and “save all life on our planet.”

    “Humanity stands at the brink of a precipice. If we do not urgently address climate breakdown and the ecological crisis, the very future of life on earth is in question,” begins the open letter published this week by the Times Higher Education magazine and addressed to vice-chancellors, Universities UK and UK Research and Innovation.


    The academics note that they are particularly well suited to the task of saving the world from global warming, given their expertise and prestige among the common people.

    “Universities are the bastions of wisdom and knowledge that are urgently needed to combat the climate crisis,” they insist. “Now is the time to increase our efforts.”

    Occasionally straying into hyperbole and remarkably unscientific language, the letter asserts that “the crisis is at our doorstep” and that humanity now faces “an even greater challenge” than going to the moon in the 1960s.


    Earlier this month, another group of academics published an essay urging institutions of higher learning to encourage climate scientists to cry in order to relieve some of the stress associated with climate trauma.


    In requesting space for climate scientists, the authors compare them to those who work in disaster relief and the military.

    “In these fields, well defined organizational structures and active strategies exist for employees to anticipate and manage their emotional distress,” they declare.

    As Breitbart News reported last month, a growing number of children in the UK are being treated for an overwhelming terror of “environmental doom” as climate alarmists spread fears of an impending climate disaster.


    “A lot of parents are coming into therapy asking for help with the children and it has escalated a lot this summer,” said psychotherapist Caroline Hickman of the Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA), referring to the newly coined psychological phenomenon of “eco-anxiety.”
    Brietbart (End Quote)”

    “I couldn’t make this sort of schist up, if I was trying,” says reporter David Middleton. For more of his take on this nonsense see:

  2. If the DOC can generate a $120,000-a-year savings from a $1.1 million government investment, that represents a roughly 10.9% return on capital (not counting depreciation) — a good investment for taxpayers. (I’d be interested to know if this includes administrative and “other” costs).

    It’s not such a good deal for the rate payers of Northern Neck Electric Coop, who lose $120,000 a year in revenue but are stuck maintaining the distribution system and generating sources that supply DOC when its new solar farm is not generating power…. unless DOC pays some kind of compensation to Northern Neck Electric. Do you happen to know if it does?

    • From what I know, the $120,000 represents a savings in its electric bill. I do not know anything about its arrangement with the Coop.

    • After doing a little research, it seems that Northern Neck purchases electricity for its members, rather than generating it. Therefore, the reduction in power usage by the prison would result in less power purchased by the Coop. I assume that the prison would still have the basic bill for the Coop for maintaining the distribution system. The portion of its bill related to power usage would be less.

  3. “The land around its prisons has been cleared of trees for security purposes, thereby maximizing the amount of solar energy that can be captured. (Anyone visiting a prison during the summer can testify to the lack of shade and the steady heat.)”

    What now happens to prison security? Or is that now just a joke, given religious need for democratic solar?

  4. I have recently read that if something is repeated 100 times it becomes truth, although I don’t think that is going to work for “no collusion”.

    Solar actually saves money, as the prison installation will. In addition to grants there are other ways of funding government and non-profit installation that don’t require general fund monies. There is performance contracting through the DMME for government facilities as the prison is and there is another innovative way being offered by Secure Futures.

    Headquartered in Staunton, the company has, and is, installing solar on schools in Augusta, Lexington and Richmond counties and on universities like W & L., the Univ of Richmond and Eastern Mennonite, where the President called the installation “good stewardship of the university’s financial resources and the earth’s natural resources.” This ‘other’ new way is through crowd funding!

    “Secure Futures, a Certified B Corp, is launching Virginia’s first crowdfunding campaign to help spread rooftop solar power to worthy community organizations around the state. “

    Secure Solar Capital, LLC was established as a subsidiary of Secure Futures to ” build, own and operate solar for tax exempt organizations around the state.” Then current offering will raise $1,070,000n in bond notes to finance a 1.3MW portfolio of solar projects including long-term operating and maintenance. Secure Futures currently owns, operates and maintains the solar arrays of 6.3MW, and has developed and sold another 3.9MW projects.

    So, yes, solar is affordable when the upfront funds and the grid interconnections are available and academics want to save the world too, but note they also like to save money.

  5. so maybe a good question is – for a given rural electric cooperative – does it “hurt” them if a person or entity puts up solar and relies on the cooperative for grid power when solar is not available?

    How does this harm the cooperative?

    • I think the tests are: 1) does the self-generator have a connection to the grid? 2) If not, then that’s the end of the analysis. If so, then the self-generator should pay for the costs of having standby access to the grid. 3) If the self-generator purchases power, it should pay the transport and distribution costs and the costs for the power consumed. The latter costs would seem to depend on whether the system’s costs for the incremental units consumed were above, at or below the tariff rate for the power. If it’s at or below, the tariff price would seem reasonable. If it’s above the tariff price, the price should be tariff price plus the amount above the tariff price plus any utility transaction costs. I think something like this would protect other ratepayers.

      If the self-generator sells any power to the utility, the latter should pay no more than the lowest alternative price for a comparable amount of energy at the time of the sale less the utility’s transaction costs.

      If other ratepayers are protected, I don’t see any problem with the State selling power with one caveat. The State should not obtain any taxpayer subsidy to construct and operate its solar generation business. It should sell revenue bonds and recover its operational expenses from its sales of power. Any taxpayer subsidy, which, by definition, is not available to other independent power generators, is unfair competition.

      If the PJM process can accommodate these protections, it’s fine to use. But if the PJM process would permit ratepayer subsidies, it needs to be modified.

      • I’m not sure what the rules are to access the grid but apparently -neither Dominion nor the co-ops can say “no”.

        I’m all for those generators pay for full costs – but at the end of the day – all costs included – solar/wind are going to cost less than nukes and fossil fuels because all the non-fuel costs are the same for both.

        • I keep hearing that solar and wind will be less expensive than conventional power but never see anyone proposing they could charge lower rates than Dominion if they were allowed to compete. Or that they could generate 50% of Dominion’s load for less if they could sell their power to Dominion. Why don’t we hear this?

          • TMT – you have to let them COMPETE – FIRST – then you can judge from actual results and not promises!

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