Detention Facilities Embrace Green Technology

FREDERICK, Md. — The Frederick County Adult Detention Center in Maryland is joining the growing list of prisons that are going green.

The 400-inmate jail is in the process of adding a solar energy array as part of a previously planned project to replace the roof. The solar panel installation is being managed by Solar Energy Services, while Citiroof Corporation is conducting the roof replacement part of the project.

The funding for the work will come primarily from a Department of Energy block grant awarded to the county in 2009. The county will add just over $20,000 from its own budget to $245,000 in federal funds to complete the project. Frederick County expects to recoup its money in the first year, as Office of Sustainability and Environmental Resources Manager Shannon Moore told the Frederick News Post he anticipated annual savings of at least $10,000 per year in energy costs, in addition to $40,000 per year in renewable Energy Credits from the federal government. With the roof replacement project also receiving significant state funding, Frederick County appears to be getting a lot of bang for its buck.

The detention center was singled out for the grant when the county discovered the facility used significantly more hot water than any other county-run facility. Solar arrays designed to heat water are estimated to be roughly three times more efficient than solar systems that generate electricity directly.

Lt. Keith Welty, commander of fiscal services at the detention center, said the roof replacement project was originally planned to be an actual expansion of the structure and its capacity, but the economic downturn led to a change in plans.

Welty commented that tabling the expansion plans worked out so far, as incarceration rates have dropped over the last three years at the county level, leaving the facility at capacity, but not overflowing. He added that the new roof and solar panels were currently scheduled to be in place by the end of September.

Meanwhile, county commissioners in Miller County, Miss., met with Dan Mills of Energy Engineering Technologies Inc., in July, to begin a feasibility study on the topic of installing solar panels at the Miller County Justice Complex. Similar to the Frederick County project, the commissioners are focusing on hot water, which they say accounted for $2,000 of the jail’s $7,000 monthly electric bill. Second District Commissioner Brian Duncan told Missouri’s News Tribune the county could save $1,000, a month, with the proposed system.

In Tulsa, Okla., the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center approached the expensive nature of hot water from the other direction, trying to remove water from the process of cleaning clothes, as much as that is possible. The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office used a $64,000 stimulus grant to switch to an ozone laundry system, a technique, which employs ozone as the primary cleaning agent. Ozone is the molecule made up of three oxygen atoms that gives off the singed-air smell most people associate with thunderstorms. The jail bought the new system from RJ Kool in North Kansas City, Mo. The company’s president told Tulsa World the ozone system would drop the water use of a 100-pound washer from 161 gallons of hot water per load to approximately 24 gallons. County Purchasing Director Linda Dorrell estimates that the system will save Tulsa County over $10,000 per year.

While these facilities are beginning to put their toes into the green energy water, Santa Rita Jail sits on the other side of the spectrum. The 4,000-inmate facility in California’s Alameda County already has wind power, solar arrays, and hydrogen fuel cells, leading it to take a step many cities across the nation are beginning to think about: Updating the grid that makes all these new technologies work together. The Alameda jail recently began work on an updated microgrid, which will allow the facility to keep the lights on, even if the local power grid stops working.

Having an efficient, self-contained energy system will also allow the jail to buy power when it is cheap and save up energy to use when electricity prices are rising. The decision to be an active player in the energy market is expected to lead the jail more than $100,000 in energy savings, per year.