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"Oregon’s prisons to start solar projects"

A mandate from the 2009 Oregon Legislature to use 1.5 percent of all new construction project budgets for solar energy projects means the agency responsible for housing Oregon’s prisoners will be doing more solar projects in the future.

DJC - BY: Nathalie Weinstein click here for original article

A mandate from the 2009 Oregon Legislature to use 1.5 percent of all new construction project budgets for solar energy projects means the agency responsible for housing Oregon’s prisoners will be doing more solar projects in the future.

But according to Vern Rowan, facilities services business manager for the Department of Corrections, rolling out new projects has been slow going due to a lack of extra staff to escort contractors while they work on prison property. Because of the secure nature of the correction department’s properties, all contractors need to be monitored by prison staff.

“Our workforce has to escort contractors around and we don’t have people who can escort every day,” Rowan said. “We have other construction going on outside of our energy projects. If we did too many at once, it could impact the safety and order of our facilities.”

Since the corrections department installed a 16.5-kilowatt pilot solar array at its Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla earlier this year, Rowan says he has received several inquires from solar service providers wanting to install more projects. If the corrections department provides the land, it can take advantage of energy savings for the life of the solar array, which generally last 20 to 30 years.

“It sounds like a good deal,” Rowan said. “But we didn’t know if it would work for us. That’s a big part of why we did the Two Rivers solar array. We’re trying to get intelligent about how to make them work within a correctional environment.”

The Two Rivers solar system is located outside the prison’s gates. Once projects move indoors, things can get really complex. A Request for Proposals currently out for a company to design a solar hot water heating system at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton will require contractors to work on the prison’s strict schedule. Prisons have to perform periodic inmate head counts throughout the day which brings any construction projects to a standstill.

“If a contractor shows up at 8 a.m., they have to wait for an hour and a half while we have inmates in their cells for a head count,” Rowan said. “There’s dead time there where contractors can’t move, which makes projects take longer to complete.”

For solar installers, working with a state assigned escort doesn’t bother them much. Nor do the thorough background checks required to work on prison property. Project manager Jeff Zimmerman of Christenson Electric had to go through the correction department’s security check before building the solar array at Two Rivers Correctional Institution.

“We had a state assigned escort and kept close tabs on all of our tools and materials,” Zimmerman said. “The prison system made it very easy for us to work. When more solar projects go out for bid from the Department of Corrections, we’ll absolutely be taking a closer look.”

Currently, the corrections department has reduced its energy consumption by 16 percent over year 2000 levels, but it wants to get to 20 percent by 2015. So far, Rowan says the department has had no problems with its first solar array and the corrections department plans to solicit a contractor to design a new solar project at its Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton soon.

“Solar should be built everywhere,” Zimmerman said. “If the state is setting an example to others, I think that’s a good thing.”

 
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