CHESAPEAKE, Va. — St. Brides Correctional Center in Chesapeake installed solar panel units in 2012 to preheat ground water entering its buildings. It has since seen a significant reduction in its reliance on propane and therefore a significant savings for the state.
“From day one when this thing turned on, it was saving the state somewhere around $35,000 per year in propane, which is substantial for me,” said Brian Newbern, buildings and grounds superintendent at St. Brides Correctional Center who served as the project manager, in a statement. “It’s a win-win.”
The solar panel systems were installed on the rooftops of the prison’s housing units and kitchen. The sun heats the cold water as it flows through the panels before entering the internal water supply system. As a result, less propane is required to increase the water temperature to sufficient levels for use in the showers, kitchens and bathrooms.
“Instead of taking cold ground water and sending it to the water heaters, this system is right before the flame and raises the temperature up to somewhere between 120 and 130 degrees [Fahrenheit],” explained Newbern in a statement.
The solar energy project was funded 100 percent by grants, and was contracted by the Department of General Services in partnership with several state agencies and higher-education institutions under the Public-Private Educational Facilities and Infrastructure Act (PPEA). The Virginia Department of Corrections project was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 in the amount of $2.3 million. Funding was authorized in 2010.
This is just one of several solar projects being implemented nationwide as a way to help taxpayers save money on utilities. A solar farm adjacent to Otero County Prison in Chaparral, N.M., was completed earlier this year, while the fifth Vermont correctional facility in Vermont received a solar power in late 2015.