County jail moves forward on planned solar panels

Douglas County administrators are recommending that commissioners approve spending $20,000 on a proposal to install solar panels to heat water at Douglas County Jail and the county’s youth services building in North Lawrence.

County staff members estimate the projects will pay for themselves in eight to nine years based on the estimated savings in natural gas use.

“I think it makes a statement about the county in terms of how we’re trying to do more than just talk about how we need to be greener,” County Administrator Craig Weinaug said. “We’re actually trying to do it.”

Commissioners in December gave county staff members permission to begin pursuing bids to install solar panels at the jail, 3601 E. 25th St. At their 4 p.m. meeting Wednesday, commissioners will decide whether to approve a bid from Solar Heat Exchange Manufacturing of Perry.

The two facilities, which house a lot of people, use lots of hot water. The jail incurred $99,200 in natural gas costs in 2008.

The solar panels would provide energy to offset some — not all — of the cost of heating water in the buildings.

The company would install three panels at the youth services building to cover 96 square feet. At the jail, contractors recommended against installing solar panels on the roof because of trapped water and potential damage.

The proposal calls for installing five panels to cover 200 square feet on grounds outside the jail.

Wednesday’s meeting is at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Mass.