St. Helena solar project at a stand-still

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Posted: Sep 16, 2011 6:12 PM by Stephanie Ryan
Updated: Sep 16, 2011 6:27 PM
Source: WBRZ

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Topics: St. Helena, Police Jury, jail, solar panels, grant

GREENSBURG-- St. Helena is the first parish in Louisiana to install solar panels that will help power its jail. It could slash the electric bill by 35 percent by providing lighting and heating water for inmates. The only problem? The project is nearly done, but no one knows if there is enough money to finish it.

"I said, 'Let's stop the project until we can get a better idea of where we are with the funds.' " said Police Juror Major Coleman.

The parish has already spent nearly all of its $213,000 in federal grant money, but the wiring for panels that will light the jail isn't done. It could cost $12,000.

Engineering Consultant Morgan Watson said the money already spent helped pay for on-the-job training for local workers.

"[Solar energy] is kind of the wave of the future," Watson said. He was hoping the education for local workers would jump-start the economy.

Right now, it's put a damper on the project that's simply taken longer than anyone expected.

"A lot of it's due to inexperience of local people who have never completed a project like this before."

Maintenance Director James Chaney expects it will take him about a week to wire the solar panels outside the jail. He just doesn't know when that will be.

The Police Jury meets in the next two weeks to decide if taxpayers will foot the bill for now. News 2 spoke with at least 10 who didn't want to pay for the project, even though they like the idea of solar panels.

"They should budget better," Marie Hudson.

There could be light at the end of the tunnel if the parish gets a federal grant to cover the cost. Hudson hopes it goes through.

The parish will find out in February if it's been awarded the grant.

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