Merced county in Illinois has just commissioned a 1.4 MW solar photovoltaic power plant on a land around two of its prisons. The power plant has come up at the John Latrocca Correctional Facility for Adults which has some 580 inmates and the adjacent Ives Garrett Juvenile Correctional Facility that has some 514 inmates.
Siemens Building Technologies built the two triangular solar arrays on about 4.6 acres of land surrounding these prison facilities. One array produces 800 kilowatts and the other 600 kilowatts from a total of 6272 solar panels. Simultaneous with the installation of the solar power plant, all lighting at the two correctional facilities has been changed to energy efficient lamps. The 1.4 MW solar plant will provide 70 percent of the electricity needs of the two correctional facilities.
Prison facilities are good locations for solar power plants. They have plenty of open spaces, protected with perimeter fencing and security and with infrastructure in terms of road access and proximity to the electrical grid. Being government owned land, permits and environmental clearances are relatively easy and fast.
This 1.4 MW solar power plant will save around $300,000 per year. This is made up of close to $14 million in savings in electricity costs over 25 year expected life of the solar panels and $1.6 million of credits for use of solar energy. The Merced county plans to use the savings to take up other community projects in the area.
The adoption of solar energy by the two Illinois prisons follows the example from California, where 1.2 megawatt solar plants have been operating at two prison locations since 2006 and 2008. Based on the satisfactory experience from these, SunEdison, the utility company, is expanding power generation at these two prisons and is building new plants at two other locations. The four solar power plants slated for completion this month, have a generating capacity of 25 megawatts and will save the California prisons administration over $57 million over the life of the plants. SunEdison is also training prison inmates in construction related skills as part of the inmate rehabilitation plan. In the future, this training could also extend to solar power plant operation and maintenance, adding an additional useful dimension to the benefits from green energy.