The state prison in Pendleton is working hard to keep the lights on and the power use down. Moves to save energy are shaving about $300,000 a year from Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution’s power bill.
Ron Miles said that’s in actual savings and estimations for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends in June. Miles is the supervising executive assistant at EOCI, the only prison in the nation to earn the U.S. Department of Energy’s 50001 Ready designation. That’s a fancy way of stating the prison is using global best practices to save energy. Miles said the prison staff is proud of the achievement, but it was not the goal.
“When we started down this path,” he said, “the idea was we would be the best in terms of reducing our carbon footprint and the overall efficiency effort.”
Mike Cleveland is the prison’s physical plant manager and has headed up EOCI’s change to conserve power and resources. When he took the manager position in 2003, gas bills in the winter were $100,000 a month. That far exceeded his spending authority and required the approval of the superintendent.
“She asked how many months is this,” Cleveland recalled. “I said December.”
The big bills led him to seek remedies for almost 500,000 square feet of building space, he said, but energy efficiency was not part of the design.
EOCI opened in 1985, becoming the first prison the state established outside of Marion County. The state originally built the place in 1913 as the Eastern Oregon State Hospital for the care of long-term mental patients. Among the state’s 14 corrections facilities, only the penitentiary in Salem has buildings older than EOCI.
Insulating attics was an obvious choice, he said, and other big improvements have cut down the cost of utilities at the prison. Since 2011 the prison upgraded its three boilers, installed new chillers and this past October finished replacing 106 high-pressure sodium lights around the perimeter with LEDs.
“We just started taking bits at a time on what we could do to save taxpayer dollars,“ Cleveland said.
The LEDs, for example, provide two-thirds more light at two-thirds less wattage and come with a 10-year warranty. Switching to LEDs also decreased maintenance. Crews had seven or eight work orders a week to fix old ballasts and sodium lamps.
“Those have dropped down to one or two a month,” Cleveland said.
The LED project cost $82,000. Cleveland said the nonprofit Energy Trust of Oregon paid the prison $32,000 in incentives to make the switch and the savings in four years will cover the rest of the cost.
“It may be quicker than that, but that’s conservative,” he said.
Energy Trust has become the prison’s go-to partner for big or small projects, reporting it has given EOCI more than $383,000 in cash incentives since 2006. The $57,000 check it cut for the prison a couple of years ago helped pay for the new chillers. Two summers netted the remaining $40,000 inn savings.
“It literally saved $5,000 a month on our electric bill,” Cleveland said.
The trust also worked with the prison’s personnel to implement “Strategic Energy Management.” Cleveland said that’s basically changing behavior and attitudes about energy use, and the inmates even play a role.
“Most of the staff and the inmates are working together to improve EOCI,” he said. “The inmates live here, so that’s their home.”
He recalled one unit where security staff kept lights on 24/7. Inmates reported that, and the prison administration addressed it.
EOCI’s age and location have made it an easy target for closure when state budgets are tight. Cleveland said operating the prison more efficiently than the rest of the facilities in the Department of Corrections makes it hard to close.
“We got staff to buy into the concept,” he said.
That was evident in 2013, when the governor mandated state agencies to cut 20 percent from building and facility costs by 2023.
“We had already hit that mark,” Cleveland said.
The prison’s utility budget back in 2009-10 was about $5 million for the biennium. Now, Cleveland said, it’s closer to $3 million.
The moves to be more energy and ecologically conscious went beyond power savings. Miles said the prison converted swaths of grass to gardens, which require less water, and the landscaping crew changed two large sections of lawn into dry landscaping to further cut back on water use while still making the prison look good.
Those $100,000 gas bills are another thing of the past. Cleveland said the bill for December 2018 was $33,175, and that was more then $3,000 lower than December 2017.
The savings speak for themselves, he said, and allow the state to reinvest in other projects, such as the new fitness and training center for employees, which should be fully operational this summer.