WARREN, Maine — Among its many other roles, the Maine Department of Corrections is a landlord, with 2,400 tenants — or inmates — living in its eight institutions.
Unlike many leases these days, all utilities are included for the inmates — and the costs for lights, laundry and heat are really adding up, said Denise Lord, associate commissioner of the Department Of Corrections.
“Energy is one of our highest-cost areas, and it’s one that is growing quickly,” Lord said Tuesday. “We have energy demands that are unusual for state government.”
That is why Warden Jeff Merrill of the Maine State Prison in Warren has been tapped to lead energy conservation efforts within the department. He’ll be responsible for coordinating the many energy-saving initiatives going on throughout the system, she said.
Some of those initiatives are run-of-the-mill and include switching out light bulbs for more energy-efficient ones, she said. But others would help the state reduce its dependence on foreign oil by using more homegrown alternatives, such as heating with wood pellets instead of or in addition to heating oil. The state is now completing a contract to use wood pellets at the Mountain View Youth Center in Charleston, Lord said.
“Improvements will be good for our state’s economy and for our environment,” said Commissioner Martin Magnusson of the Maine Department of Corrections in a press release.
Corrections officials also see the chance to swap out oil for wind energy, at least at the Charleston Correctional Facility.
“It’s the only one located in an area where we think there’s sufficient wind to justify an investment,” Lord said.
She said that the department is working with Unity College now to estimate wind power potential in Charleston.
The state also is looking into ways to “significantly reduce” the use of water for laundry, Lord said, which some other correctional facilities have done using new technology.
“It looks very promising,” she said.
Merrill has spent the past 14 years at the helm of the Maine State Prison and oversaw the design of the new facility and the transition from the old prison in Thomaston. He’ll continue as warden there until October, Lord said, so that he can direct this year’s accreditation process. The new position will be located at the Charleston Correctional Facility, which will be a chance for Merrill to return to his Dover-Foxcroft roots. He also will assume responsibility for coordinating the state’s prison industries program, Lord said.
“I am looking forward to this new responsibility,” Merrill said in a press release. “It gives me an opportunity to contribute to an area of significant importance to the entire department and to the state.”
Merrill was not available to speak with the press.
Until a replacement can be found, Magnusson will act as warden at the Maine State Prison — a position he held until he moved to the central office in Augusta 14 years ago.
The department will be advertising for a new warden “immediately,” Lord said.
In 2008, the Maine State Prison warden earned a salary of $96,470 — more than the governor, who earned $70,000 last year, according to the Web site maineopengov.org.
“It is our largest facility. It has the most staff assigned to it,” Lord said of the Maine State Prison. “It also houses our more difficult prisoners. We need someone who can bring the various interests together in a positive way.”