Prison Looking to Make Switch from Coal to Gas

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CANAAN TOWNSHIP -- During frigid winter days like we're having one state prison in Wayne County is burning lots of coal to keep the facility warm.

How much coal you might wonder?

Try upwards of 35 tons per day.

For more than 100 years, the massive prison has been atop Farview Mountain overlooking Waymart. First, it housed the criminally insane. Now, it's a State Correctional Institute.

About 1,500 inmates are there and when it's cold outside, inside workers keep the fires burning hot to keep the place warm. For ages the prison's power-plant has burned coal. And these days, it's burning lots of it.

"Days like today are a drain on the budget," said Superintendent Wayne Gavin. "For example today we'll probably burn 30 ton of coal. It is a beast but we manage pretty well."

Officials at S.C.I. Waymart said two of three boilers run full steam during winter.

Robert Bunting supervises the plant that burns this all that coal, a fossil fuel to which northeastern PA is no stranger.

"It provides heat in the winter time and it also provides hot water year round, so it's 24-7-365," said Bunting.

S.C.I. Waymart's power plant will have to come into compliance soon with new federal regulations on coal and could cost the prison millions of dollars, according to officials. Now the push is on to find possible alternatives to heating the massive facility.

"We're exploring our options with different heat sources, and obviously being in a natural gas territory we're looking at that," added Gavin.

Two other state prisons are switching to natural gas within the next year and in order to do the same, the prison near Waymart would need legislative approval.

Senator Lisa Baker said lawmakers are looking into the most cost-effective options for the prison in Wayne County.

A federal prison nearby does use natural gas to heat its buildings.

Currently, coal is costing the state prison in Wayne County upwards of $1 million per year.


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