Hamilton County solar project to power jail, health department

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — Construction is underway on a 3-acre solar field in Noblesville to power the Hamilton County Corrections Facility and Hamilton County Health Department.

With some solar panels were already up, officials broke ground on the project Monday.

“Upon completion, this will be the largest solar project for a jail complex in state of Indiana,” said Mark Heirbrandt, president of the Board of County Commissioners.

Heirbrandt said the Hamilton County Solar Project will contain 9,300 solar panels at a cost of $8 million. He siad internal crews handled the installation to save the county more money. The project was expected to save $13 million in 25 years, with $100,000 in rebates already flowing into the county from Duke Energy. He anticipated construction will finish within three months and the solar field should be operational by July 1, 2018.

“This project will impact 100 percent of the electric utilities for our health department as well as our old correctional facility across the street,” Heirbrand said.

Solar panels will also be installed on the roof of the jail, and lighting in the facility will switch from incandescent bulbs to more energy-efficient light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs.

Saving money is a top priority for the commissioners, who spend hours each year pouring over budgets. In fact, Heirbrandt said, the only thing the county spends more on than energy bills is staff payrolls and benefits. However, he said, this project has another focus: education at local schools and at Ivy Tech Community College.

“These students will be able to monitor the electrical use and be able to monitor the energy savings that’s generated by it, and also provide experiences for students about renewable energy technology,” he said.

Despite having cloud cover Monday for the solar-panel groundbreaking, commissioners said they’re optimistic about the project, explaining that even with cloudy weather the panels still absorb ultraviolet rays at a capacity from 10 to 15 percent.

At the conclusion of the groundbreaking, commissioners and guests signed the back of a solar panel and said they’re looking forward to a brighter, thriftier future.

“Our jail operates 24/7. People don’t realize that it’s the biggest energy user in the county,” Heirbrandt said. “So we really wanted to tackle energy and operational savings from a project like this and so that’s why we worked really hard to get this to happen.”