SPRINGFIELD -- A 140-year-old Illinois prison housing some of the state's toughest criminals could one day be home to a modern and ecologically friendly power generator.
The Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises Newspapers in Illinois reported Friday that Department of Corrections officials are studying whether Menard Correctional Center in southwestern Illinois could be run by waste products from other prisons.
Wood, paper and food refuse could be burned to provide about 10 percent of the power necessary at Menard, a 3,600-inmate prison built in the 1870s in Chester, about 60 miles southeast of St. Louis.
Illinois Correctional Industries, the division of the prison system in which inmates work manufacturing products, is "very much in the exploratory stages," chief executive officer Jen Aholt said.
Aholt said it's possible that waste from other prisons could be transformed into dried pellets at those facilities, then transported to Menard and burned to generate power.
Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer said the idea falls under the "energy diversification" portion of the agency's sustainability plan.
Burning waste to generate energy at public facilities is not new. Private sector experts have built systems for public hospitals and colleges in the U.S. and Canada.
"This is all conceptual and general, but ICI would like to see something happen," Shaer said.
Gov. Pat Quinn has promoted the conversion of state facilities to so-called biomass energy production for years. In 2007, when he was lieutenant governor, the Democrat touted the benefits of phasing out the use of fossil fuels to keep the lights on at state buildings.
The state is also studying the possibility of powering at least one interstate highway rest area with a wind turbine. =