BRADENTON - Florida Power & Light was puzzled, Dave Thompson said, and thought there was something wrong with the electric meter at the Manatee County Detention Center.
Thompson, of the Property Management Department in Manatee County's government and a member of the "Green Team," said the utility's bill had dropped dramatically and the company called to inform him, and that it wanted to check the meter.
"FPL was concerned that the meter wasn't spinning fast enough," he said.
It wasn't a meter malfunction, though, but a sign of the efforts being made to save money in county government.
The Green Team - county employees who have volunteered to lead the effort to conserve energy and save money for the taxpayers - visited the County Commission on Tuesday and members were congratulated for their effort.
"Sustainability is not something that we will absolutely reach," said Brenda Rogers, leader of the Green Team. "It is a goal out there that we will continue to make steps towards, but there will always be changes in technology, changes in science, and we will ever proceed toward that goal. The ultimate completion is not in our realm of possibility.
"Our Green Team has been taking steps to lessen the impact of county government on the environment."
In the case of the detention center, a $200,000 refit of the HVAC control system that is in progress and nearly completed has cut one-third of operational dollars at the jail, Thompson said.
Other efforts in his department include:
Administration building HVAC Controls Retrofit Project, which he called a "brain transplant." It was finished in March 2008 for $53,000, and the original system dated to the 1970s.
New light switches in the hallways in common areas and passageways so staff can shut off the lights. It was finished in June 2008 for $1,200. "That was a really cheap, direct project that was very helpful," Thompson said.
Judicial center mechanical plant control improvements. It finished in January for $4,000. It had two or three data centers that required a system that ran 24 hours a day. By adding small air conditioners, the department was able to shut down the bigger systems for 10 to 12 hours a night, but maintain the cooling system in the data centers.
Energy conservation project at the Emergency Operations Center to monitor how many people are in the building through the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. The cost is $30,000 and completion is expected in August. The system is not very efficient when the building is not full, Thompson said, and this program will address that. "This project will pay for itself in less than a year," he promised.
Lighting switch controls for the Judicial Center. The cost is $6,000, pending funding. He is also trying to get the stairwell and balcony lights turned off.
HVAC control system in the Desoto Center on 301 Boulevard. The cost is $50,000 for another "brain transplant," and it's expected to be finished in November. "As soon as we finish the jail, this is the next project," Thompson said.
Thompson reported that from May 2007 to April 2008, the administration building cost taxpayers $419,000 for operational costs. But from May 2008 to April 2009, the cost was $378,173. In the Judicial Center, from October 2007 to March 2008, when the contractors were still working in the building, the cost was $322,263, and from October 2008 to March 2009, the cost was $253,132 to operate the plant.
With new systems, Thompson said. He can even monitor buildings from home and fix problems without coming in to work if, as sometimes happens, people are working late in the Judicial Center.
The side benefits of conservation are two-fold, said Commissioner Joe McClash, because before the temperature was not well-regulated and people were often wearing jackets indoors because they were cold. "Keep up the good work," he said. "The returns on investment are definitely there."
From the Public Works Department, Mike Brennan reported on efforts to save energy, including using solar power to run traffic signals and school warning signs, and using LEDs in street lights.
For transportation, while the infrastructure is not there for alternative fuel vehicles the department has added three hybrid buses and three hybrid sedans, and they are now being prepared for service.
The buses, Brennan confirmed, are for Route 99.
In addition, the department is working on recycling motor oil, tires, batteries and more.
Neil Spirtas of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce also presented his organization's list of accomplishments, including efforts the business community has planned and the potential that green business offers for jobs and economic growth.
Rogers said that a special treat will be that one of the new hybrid buses will be available for public viewing at the governmental center on Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and citizens can see exhibits in the lobby, too.
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