News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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April 17, 2011

Solar panels powering hot water in Wabash Valley Correctional Facility inmate living unit

TERRE HAUTE — Hot water for showers is no problem for an inmate living unit equipped with a new solar energy system.

Building “P” at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility has been heating its water through solar panels installed on the roof of the maximum-security housing unit through a project that began in February.

“The system is up and running,” Roger Dagley, WVCF physical plant director, told the prison’s advisory board during a recent tour. “We have to hook up the data control. And we also have two flow meters to hook up to see where we are as far as energy usage.”

One of the those meters will be set up on the new solar-heated water system, while the other meter will be in a different housing unit, so that a comparison of energy usage can be developed.

During a recent check of the new system, which supplies solar-heated water to be used by the offender population for daily showers, every shower head had plenty of hot water in flow, Dagley said.

“P” building houses 200 inmates at the Carlisle prison. It now has 15 solar panels measuring 4 by 10 feet mounted on the roof, with pipes circulating water to the panels. That water will run to a secondary hot water tank to provide additional hot water for the showers and relieve some of the duty of the building’s boiler system.

The panels preheat water to temperatures of 165 degrees, and the system is sized to provide about 40 percent of the thermal energy needed to heat the water. The new system will offset the natural gas needed to heat the water, resulting in a cost savings.

The showers in the building are 18 years old, so as part of the project, the shower system was also  exchanged for a more efficient one.

If the data collected on the new system supports a cost savings, the entire facility could be switched to solar-heated water.

Kevin Orme, director of construction services for the Indiana Department of Correction, said the efficiency of the solar panel system makes it a good project for county jails to look into.

“A single county jail can use the system on top of ‘P’ house,” Orme said. “It does work, and there is grant money out there for counties to use.”

The new system is a $75,000 investment into the building, and is expected to pay for itself in 15 years. The Department of Correction is figuring the system will save $6,000 per year in energy costs.

Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com.

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