Reducing Costs of America’s Prison System with Solar Energy

Solar power is all about creating opportunities to lower energy costs. Here’s a huge opportunity most people have never considered: Converting America’s prison system to solar.

I know what you’re thinking. “Corey, why would we do that?“ The answer is simple: Economics. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that the United States spends more than $80 billion each year to keep roughly 2.3 million people behind bars.

The financial impact on individual states is mind-boggling. In 2015, a report entitle Vera: The Price of Prisons listed the cost by state and by prisoner. Here are the top five:

The number of facilities is also significant. Across the country, there are:

  • 1,719 state prisons
  • 109 federal prisons
  • 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities
  • 3,163 local jails
  • 80 jails on Native American reservations

The biggest prison expense is personnel, composing roughly 68 percent of total spending in 2015. Inmate healthcare comes in second at about 11 percent. The remaining 21 percent goes to food, energy and other maintenance.

Even though energy costs are less than a fifth of a prison’s expenses, it still represents a significant number. And given that converting to solar can reduce monthly electricity by as much as 75 percent, the savings for prisons can be significant. Say a facility’s monthly electricity bill is $6,000. With solar, the bill is reduced to $1,500 per month, an annual savings of $54,000.

At the same time, the facility is no longer at the whims of energy price increases, which are often significant. Here’s an example. In a sample facility with 1,200 beds, if utility prices rise by as little as five percent per year over the next 20 years, the cost to the institution could be $1.2 million or more, which is $1,000 per inmate. That’s $1.2 million that could be better spent on other prison expenses such as better security, staffing, inmate programming, or facility improvements.

Prisons are also good candidates for solar installations. Larger prisons are typically placed in rural and low population density areas, with land available for ground-mounted systems. Parking lot canopies and roof-mounted systems are other options.

There are upfront costs of designing and installing a solar system, which Solential can help eliminate. Such projects are attractive to third party institutional investors who will foot the upfront costs in exchange for a long-term commitment on the part of the prison to purchase the generated electricity or lease the system itself. Solential, which has more than 12 years experience in solar solutions, helps many government facilities such as schools, municipal buildings and utilities, identify third party investors.

Some prisons have already dipped their toes in the solar power opportunity. As of 2015, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had installed solar panels at a dozen state prisons and projected $78 million in energy savings over the two decades. Additionally, the system will remove upwards of 61,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. Prisons in Texas and Virginia have also deployed solar to bring down their energy costs.

                           Corey Miller, Solential

With federal, state, and local budgets under immense pressure due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic shutdown, we must look at creative, practical ways to reduce government expenditures that do not harm services or quality of life. Converting our correctional facilities to solar power will slash costs and make for a healthier environment.

We should do it. Now.

Learn more about the process of converting to solar here. If you have questions about third party financing or other solar topic, I am happy to discuss. Email me at or call 317-978-1727 and we’ll set up a time.