The Jasper County Jail has turned to solar power to keep deputies, staff and inmates warm in the winter and cool in the summer, while also reducing operational expenses.
The county has invested $2 million to remedy the facility’s history of heating and cooling problems by installing a 2,300-panel solar array on neighboring property.
County Commissioner Kendell Culp says the county was spending up to $25,000 a month on energy bills.
In an interview on Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick, Culp said the costs were not sustainable.
“Even though we were paying high utility bills, there still was not a comfort level within the jail for our employees. And that just wasn’t acceptable,” said Culp. “We tried a myriad of different options and different things to improve the situation.”
The company hired Carmel-based Solential Energy to conduct an energy audit on the 120-bed jail. Sheriff Pat Williamson says no matter much how they were spending, the administrative offices and jail space were, on occasion, dipping to 50 degrees.
“In the wintertime…our inmates were given extra blankets and sweatshirts to keep them warm,” said Williams. “With humidity levels in the summertime, they were really out of control, making our business side…very difficult to work.”
Solential, along with Indianapolis-based Trane Technologies, determined solar energy was a viable option to cut costs. The project added the solar array on three acres of county-owned property next to the jail.
Culp says the solar field provides 50-90% of the jail’s energy needs depending on the weather and time of day.
In addition to the addition of the solar panels, the jail also sprayed additional insulation foal, sealed doors and windows and upgraded to LED lighting.
Culp says savings from energy bills will pay off the project over the next 15 years at no cost to taxpayers.
“We believe with our projections we can cash flow this project, just through the energy savings we’ve received,” said Culp. “It’s not too often you can make a capital investment and cash flow that over time, but we really feel that that’s achievable.”
The solar system includes a Cloud-based remote monitoring system called Solview that allows the sheriff and others to monitor the system’s energy output and other data in real time.