Robins Air Force Base and military installations throughout the Defense Department have been under the gun for several years to cut energy consumption.

Now, a new Pentagon edict calls for developing three  gigawatts of renewable energy by fiscal year 2025 — enough to power 750,000  homes.

The Air Force, Army and Navy each have one gigawatt goals — the  Air Force by 2016 with the Army and Navy following in 2020 and 2025  respectively.

Robins has already been operating under directives that called for a 30 percent reduction in energy intensity by 2015 … intensity measured in terms of energy used per square foot of building space.

A  mild winter and concerted effort have shown promise with an 8 percent reduction  in gas and electric consumption compared to 2010, even though 100,000 square feet of building space was added and maintenance production increased. But the new gigawatt goal compounds the challenge, although it might offer additional opportunities as well.

The new directive includes a variety of alternative financing options including energy saving performance contracts, enhanced use leases and power purchase agreements.

Energy saving performance contracts and utility energy service contracts appear to have the most immediate promise at Robins. In these cases, a private company pays the  upfront cost for energy-saving renovations and retrofits in exchange for a share of the energy savings over time.

“Due to the current climate of tight budgets, these are the contract options that will permit us to accomplish some of the large changes and upgrades needed to achieve some of the goals,” said  Terry Alan Landreth, 78th Civil Engineering Group energy office supervisor. “We are currently working our proposed program through the required Air Force review  process.”

Some of the work anticipated includes upgrades to energy management systems, heating and air conditioning systems, and updates to windows and insulation.

Landreth said Robins’ access to the two other funding options is limited due to legal and regulatory constraints.

“However,  when the right idea comes along that fits the profile, we will definitely pursue it,” he added.

The renewable energy technologies available to the base are limited. For example, wind and geothermal are not feasible, the Robins engineer said, but solar power has potential.

“We have a major solar  project planned over the next five years if the cost-benefit analysis proves favorable,” he said. “The cost of photovoltaic still presents (cost/savings) difficulties but solar panels that provide heated water have some uses and are fairly cost effective. Both are being considered and reviewed.”

Ground sourcing is also promising. In this method, heating and air systems take advantage of constant temperatures in the ground to either heat or cool. Robins is already ground sourcing a heat and air system that provides service to lodging facilities.

“We have some additional projects in the planning stages that will also use ground sourcing,” Landreth noted.

Other options could be waste-to-energy alternatives including finding ways to use the base waste system, agriculture and logging waste, bio-gas from landfills and other sources.

“These technologies will take time to work through because they  have significant logistical and environmental challenges to overcome,” he said.

The base’s current annual energy bill exceeds $25 million with the industrial area accounting for about 60 percent. However,the maintenance wing  has been a willing, cooperative partner, Landreth pointed out, including  reviewing processes to identify waste that can be eliminated.

He welcomes the Defense Department’s new focus on renewables.

“In the long term,  these new goals will make projects more likely to be approved and funded,” he  said. “These goals will also encourage a more aggressive choice of  projects.”

Landreth is keenly aware that mission accomplishment remains the focal point for all base organizations.

“However, that does not mean we can afford to be wasteful or inefficient,” he underscored. 

by Gene Rector, Warner Robins Patriot