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.There are currently no comments highlighted.