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TDCJ working to reduce fuel usage through energy savings program

Tillustration of stack of men on ladder reaching up to light switchhe Texas Department of Criminal Justice puts a lot of energy into saving energy. For several years, in fact, the agency has had initiatives in place to reduce the consumption of electricity, natural gas, water, and gasoline.

Still, with rising energy prices, TDCJ’s utility bills are expected to exceed $120 million this year, accounting for more than two dollars of what it costs on average to house an offender each day. That’s a big reason why the agency puts a lot of energy into its energy-saving initiatives. Reducing consumption reduces costs.

“Besides that, it’s just the right thing to do,” said Brenda Jordy, manager of planning and programming for TDCJ’s Facilities Division.

Jordy and Lee Struble, manager of the Program Administration Department within the Facilities Division, are enthusiastic about energy conservation and regularly make presentations to regional directors and wardens within the Correctional Institutional Division. And to make sure that rank-and-file employees get the message, they have produced an energy awareness pamphlet that includes an energy quiz and tips for cutting consumption. The pamphlet ends with a poignant message: “In the time it took you to read this pamphlet, the TDCJ cost for utility consumption was $764.”

Hot and cold weather, of course, affects energy consumption. Cold snaps generally cause natural gas consumption to rise because of the increased demand for heating and hot water, said Struble. Hot weather, on the other hand, tends to drive up electricity consumption because of the use of air conditioning in certain areas of a facility.

“If natural gas usage is high, electricity typically runs a little low, and visa versa,” Struble said. “Electricity drives air conditioning, primarily, and lighting. The primary driver for natural gas is hot water production for kitchens, laundries and offender showers. In the wintertime, its’ heating. Our offender count is high right now. The more offenders you have, the more showers you’re taking, the more food you’ve got to prepare, and the more laundry you’ve got to do. That drives some of our consumption data for both electricity and natural gas.”

Struble said TDCJ facilities can save energy much the same way households do. Turning off perimeter lights when not needed, limiting the times of day offenders can shower, and doing the unit laundry during off-peak hours are just a few of the practices recommended.

In an effort to further reduce energy consumption, the agency is now conducting preliminary energy audits at all its facilities and incorporating energy efficient products into repair and renovation project designs. A performance contract has been signed with a firm to conduct detailed utility audits at several units and to recommend cost-cutting measures.

In the meantime, Struble said TDCJ maintenance employees regularly replace worn equipment with modern models.

“Water heaters have become so efficient that we have removed boilers as they’ve failed and replaced them with water heaters,” he said. “They can produce hot water efficiently and quickly enough to replace the boiler. We’re doing that throughout the system.”

TDCJ also scrutinizes its utility bills in an effort to identify areas of high usage and to formulate corrective measures. And sometimes the bills themselves need to be corrected. While identifying billing errors may not reduce consumption, it does reduce energy costs.

Manufacturing & Logistics Division Director Rick Thaler said the high cost of gasoline makes it imperative that employees throughout the agency are of a mindset to practice energy conservation. Simple things like carpooling and performing multiple tasks during a single trip can make a big difference, he said.

“Gasoline consumption for the year is down, and that tells me that people are attempting to make good decisions out there in the field,” said Thaler, who oversees the agency’s fleet of approximately 2,100 vehicles, most of which are gasoline-powered. “Looking across the board, fuel consumption is down in about every division. So I think that overall, the support service divisions do a good job of trying to carpool when they go out to the facilities.”

Struble and Jordy said each TDCJ employee can make a difference in the agency’s efforts to conserve energy.

“There are a lot more men and women out there who are trying to do the right thing in reducing consumption,” Struble said. “Again, it comes back to employee awareness. Without the help of the employees within this agency, we’re never going to have any real success in reducing energy consumption.”

illustration of light bulbEnergy Saving Tips That Will Make a Difference

  • Identify and report deficiencies that will result in any increase in consumption of electricity, natural gas or water.
  • Turn off lights and office equipment when not in use.
  • Identify and report natural gas leaks.
  • Turn perimeter and other outside lights off during daylight and identify failed lamps during darkness.
  • Replace T-12 fluorescent lamps and magnetic ballasts with T-8 lamps and electronic ballasts.
  • Incandescent bulbs should be replaced with compact fluorescent lamps.
  • If possible, complete laundry and industrial operations before noon so demand charges will not be incurred (demand charges occur typically from noon until 8 p.m. due to large demand on electric provider).
  • Secure thermostats and set higher during summer and lower during winter while dressing for the climate (one degree makes a difference).
  • Establish and enforce offender shower schedules, fix leaking plumbing fixtures, calibrate mixing valves, and ensure low flow showerheads are installed (this saves water, electricity and natural gas).
  • Secure outside hoses, water landscape sparingly.

And two more for the road

  • Carpool.
  • Bundle tasks into one trip.

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illustration of a beeUnit garden harvest benefits from being buzzed by bees

beekeepers inspecting bee hive
TDCJ employees inspect a beehive at the Scott Unit near Angleton.

TDCJ Photo

illustration of a bee
Although a soggy spring and early summer shrank what otherwise might have been a bumper crop, state prison unit gardens managed by TDCJ’s Agribusiness, Land & Minerals department still seemed to have benefited from being buzzed by honeybees this year.

At the Scott Unit near Angleton, for example, the harvest of yellow squash bound for the agency’s cannery more than doubled from a year ago, up from about 2,000 pounds per acre in 2006 to approximately 5,800 pounds per acre this year. Cucumbers and zucchini squash also did extremely well at Scott. Roger Shed, an edible crop specialist for TDCJ, attributes the increased harvest partly to the placement of honeybees at the unit prior to the start of the spring growing season.

“At Scott, we have a very visual increase,” said Shed. “People are making comments about the amount of squash coming out of that garden.”

After a long hiatus, honeybees were reintroduced to TDCJ this past spring in an effort to boost pollination, and thereby vegetable production, in unit gardens managed by the agency’s agriculture department. TDCJ has since established bee colonies at seven units, while two others -- Darrington and Pack -- have turned to private keepers to bring in hives of perhaps the most proficient pollinators in the world.

Encouraged by the success at Scott, Shed said TDCJ plans to increase its beehives twofold next year and rotate them to different parts of the units each year thereafter. He said the hives would ideally be placed within a square mile of a unit garden but away from offenders working in the larger agricultural fields.

illustration of a bee“We’re optimistic about what the bees have done this year,” Shed said. “What we’re trying to do is build up populations in areas where the bees will come in and work our crops and not be as visible.”

One unexpected treat to come from this year’s growing season was the more than 200 pounds of honey harvested from hives that normally don’t produce it so soon. All of the collected honey was bottled and delivered to unit kitchens.

“We’re not even supposed to have honey the first year,” Shed said. “We actually had a 40 to 50 percent honey return off of bees we weren’t even supposed to have honey off of this year. So that’s sweet.”

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