May 28, 2008 / 2:03 PM / 12 years ago

CORRECTED - California prison system embraces green power

(Takes out erroneous reference to Edison International in 3rd paragraph)

LOS ANGELES, May 28 (Reuters) - Prisons, with their impenetrable fences and imposing watchtowers, don’t exactly boast a planet-friendly image.

But California, which is trying to use more green power at its state buildings, is trying to change that.

On Wednesday, the state will unveil a 1.18 megawatt (MW) solar power plant at its Ironwood State Prison that provides enough electricity to power a quarter of the facility’s needs. SunEdison built and will run the plant with its own money.

Ironwood is the second prison in California to host a solar power plant and it will save about $50,000 a year in electricity costs, according to Harry Franey, chief of the Energy Management and Sustainability Section of the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The medium-security prison is located more than 200 miles (322 km) east of downtown Los Angeles near Blythe, California, and is home to 4,500 male inmates. The more than 6,000 solar panels on the site cover about 13 acres (5.2 hectares) of land that previously was not being used.

With their expansive properties and locations far into the California desert, many of the state’s prisons are ideal sites for ground-mounted solar power plants, Franey said.

“We have the luxury of having room, where some state agencies probably don’t,” he said, explaining that the push to use solar power at prisons came in response to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s initiative requiring state buildings to reduce their grid-based energy consumption by 20 percent by 2015.

Ten additional prisons are being considered for similar energy projects, Franey said.

“This is kind of the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “Because we are a prison system we tend not to advertise these things, but God knows we need the good press.” (Reporting by Nichola Groom, Editing by Anthony Boadle)

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