Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Prisons in California, Indiana and New Mexico Go Solar

While solar-powered prisons may be a thing of the future, they have already arrived in California, Indiana and New Mexico, at least at a few facilities.

In California the move to go solar is part of a larger effort to obtain one-third of the state’s electricity from renewable energy sources by the year 2020. Five state prisons have already been or are in the process of being outfitted with over 83,000 solar panels generating 25 megawatts – enough electricity to power more than 89,000 homes. To put that in perspective, using fossil fuels to generate an equivalent amount of power would release as much carbon dioxide as 90,000 vehicles emit each year.

Money is also a factor. The installation of solar panels at the prisons is expected to result in savings of $55 million to California taxpayers over the next two decades; excess power generated will be sold into the state’s electricity grid, with the profits from the sales being split between the state and solar panel contractor SunEdison. The profits are expected to be substantial enough, apparently, that SunEdison is willing to subsidize the cost of the solar panel projects at the prisons.

A solar panel plant was installed at Chuckawalla State Prison in June 2006, while a similar plant was activated at Ironwood State Prison in May 2008. In May 2011, the CDCR announced plans to expand solar power projects to Tehachapi, North Kern and CSP-Los Angeles County.

Meanwhile, in New Mexico, a $10 million project to install over 23,000 solar panels outside two prisons in Otero County (just north of El Paso, Texas) began in March 2011. The project, which will generate enough electricity to supply about 600 homes, is intended to meet the daytime power needs of the prisons.

In January 2012 the Otero County Commission approved the lease of 25 acres of land near one of the facilities to construct the solar power plant, which is being developed by Alternative Industry Resources with financing by Cadmos, a Spanish firm. The solar panels will be built by Border Solar and the plant will produce 1 megawatt of electricity to power the Otero County Prison, which is run by a private company, Management and Training Corp.

And in Indiana, the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility is operating a pilot project that uses solar power to heat water for showers in a maximum-security housing unit. The project, which cost $75,000, began in February 2011 and is expected to break even within 15 years through reduced energy expenditures.

As the costs of mass imprisonment grow, there is a push to reduce the cost of captivity by adopting measures to allow the government to maintain high levels of incarceration at a reduced expense. This is a classic example where a laudable goal, renewable energy sources, is corrupted with an evil means: continued mass incarceration. Real and bigger environmental questions, like the impact of huge prisons in environmentally sensitive areas, are totally ignored.

Sources:, El Paso Times,,

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login