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U.S. jailbirds go solar

Looking for a sizeable and dependable workforce to help build the solar-energy industry? Look no further than the U.S. prison system (largest in the world — we’re number one!)

Anyway, that’s what Spire Corporation, a solar company based in Bedford, Massachusetts, has decided to do. Spire announced this week that it’s won a $54.9 million contract from the Federal Prison Industries Inc., also known as UNICOR.

Under the contract, Spire will supply solar cells to the Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, New York. Prisoners there will then be trained to use those photovoltaics to manufacture solar modules that will be sold to other government agencies.

The manufacturing setup will employ Spire’s Turnkey Photovoltaic Module Factory. If the operation at Otisville proves successful, UNICOR could consider adding similar factories at other correctional facilities in the U.S.

“The United States represents a huge growing market for photovoltaics,” said Roger G. Little, Spire’s chairman and CEO. “We are delighted to play a leading role in the training of people for this industry which requires more and more skilled labor.”

Established in 1934, UNICOR runs voluntary, real-work programs aimed at teaching federal inmates job skills. And you’ll have to admit that knowing how to assemble solar modules is a much better skill these days than that old prison standby, knowing how to create license plates.

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