Technology array of solar panels at Ironwood Prison

Published on December 19th, 2012 | by Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

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Solar Powered Prisons in California Represent Big Savings for Taxpayers

array of solar panels at Ironwood Prison

Prisons are a necessary component of modern society, but even the most die-hard “get tough on crime” proponent doesn’t want to spend a ton of money on them.  So, where do you keep costs down? Guards? Buildings? Cutting most categories of spending probably also means cutting security at some level; energy, however, represents a significant source of savings without undermining a prison’s purpose. California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation may have implemented a model for the rest of the country: a multi-institution solar power purchase agreement.

Created in partnership with SunEdison, the solar energy component of the “CDCR Goes Green” program not only creates environmental benefits, but also cost savings for a state that’s been hit hard by the economic downturn. Since 2006, the program has installed solar systems at five state prisons: California Correctional Institution, Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, Ironwood State Prison (pictured above), North Kern State Prison, and Los Angeles County. Expected savings vary by source, but they’re substantial in any case: $45-57 million over the 20 year contracts.

The beauty of this arrangement is that the state didn’t have to pony up a large initial investment: SunEdison installed the panels on marginal lands near the prisons, owns them, and maintains them. The CDCR simply agrees to buy power at a set rate for the term of the contract. For details on the cost savings and environmental benefits created by each installation, take a look at the CDCR’s data set on the solar program.

Hard to see this as anything other than a “win-win”; I’m sure we’ll continue to see these kinds of energy contracts put in place by large institutions. Know of another one that’s working well? Let us know about it.

via SunEdison and Correctional News

Image courtesy of SunEdison



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About the Author

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can keep up with all of his writing at Facebook, and at



2 Responses to Solar Powered Prisons in California Represent Big Savings for Taxpayers

  1. Dim Poss says:

    “Prisons are a necessary component of modern society” is WAY too broad a statement about what is going on in the prison industry/system today. Roughly half of the people unjustly imprisoned are incarcerated for minor drug offences or trumped-up charges so that the for-profit prison industry/system can make even more money by forcing the prisoners to perform extremely poorly paid labour for which the prisons are paid handsomely. I know the article is about how solar energy is helping reduce taxpayer costs, but we mustn’t, as humans and not just environmentalists, overlook the terrible human rights issues perpetrated by this corrupt industry/system.

    • No doubt, Dim… but, as you yourself pointed out, I wasn’t focusing on the penal system itself in this post – just energy use in one system. I agree there are many weaknesses in the ways we conceive of crime and punishment in the US and the developed world, and our prisons are often symbols of drastic failures on that front… but, again, that wasn’t my focus here.

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