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News > Conservation efforts earn JBER DoD sustainability award
Conservation efforts earn JBER DoD sustainability award
Greg Mitchell, JBER Landfill gas plant operator, checks the pressure on the landfill gas processing module, being constructed at the Anchorage Landfill, Aug. 21, 2012. The module cleans and dries the landfill gas before it is sent to the plant. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Brian Ferguson)
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Conservation efforts earn JBER DoD sustainability award

Posted 5/16/2013   Updated 5/16/2013 Email story   Print story


by Jim Hart
JBER Public Affairs

5/16/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson received the DoD Sustainability Non-Industrial Installation Award for FY 2012. One major component to the award packet is money.

Conservation efforts, whether they involve natural resources or energy conservation, frequently take time to bear fruit and often require significant initial investment in infrastructure. In this day and age, building upgrades and other programs have to adhere to the phrase "return on investment." Discouraging ROI numbers can delay or even prohibit remodeling in favor of another project or outright demolition.

For instance, to save $1.6 million in energy bills annually, JBER might remodel several buildings at $100 million per structure, or it could build a landfill gas energy plant for $3.8 million.

It might seem like a no-brainer to build the plant, but that kind of informed decision is possible only after the engineers (and people from other disciplines) have spent many man-hours studying volumes of information to determine the costs involved versus money generated. With sustainability, it's all about efficiency - right down to the money spent.

"The methane plant was purely justified on the basis of renewable energy and electrical commodity cost savings," said Al Lucht, 673d Civil Engineer Group deputy director. "The great majority of recent new construction of JBER is tied to 'new mission', that being stationing of the F-22 [Raptor] and arrival of the new Airborne Combat Brigade. Being in the Arctic, we work in partnership with the Alaska District Corps of Engineers to incorporate state-of-the-art features in materials, electronics, and utility systems. Doing so not only saves energy dollars, it has the added benefit of lower cost maintenance and operation."

The energy saving ideas cannot achieve anything by themselves, and JBER doesn't burn British thermal units autonomously. People who work and live on base use resources - a lot of resources. Environmental concerns notwithstanding, resources cost money and that cost often spurs sustainability projects.

"I think that the big driver (for these programs) is dollars," said Mark Prieksat, Joint Base Environmental Compliance chief. "We look at it and say, 'How do we save money?'

There's an environmental sustainability part to that, but we've been doing the environmental management for a long time and we have a pretty good handle on it. It's the other aspect as energy becomes more expensive: How do we make (things) more efficient?"

Not everyone is an environmentalist, so the argument carbon dioxide is bad for the planet may not resonate as easily. But money is something more tangible.

"The budget's tight," said Sonny Turpin, JBER energy manager. "We're gonna spend it somewhere; better to spend it on the resources of Soldiers, Airmen and employees than electricity."

Last year, JBER consumed 1,961,280 BTUs. While the industrial portion of it is more or less fixed to workload - think machinery in maintenance bays and hangars - the heating, lighting and even computers take up the lion's share of the remainder. With an annual bill of $26,194,749, shaving 2 percent would result in $523,894 going back into the base accounts.

To that end, there is the Energy Management Control System where, from a central point, the base can turn temps down at night when buildings are unoccupied, and bring them back up in the morning in time for the occupants' arrival at work, Turpin said.

EMCS has a large data component to it; it's not simply a huge programmable thermostat. Civil engineering worked with an EMCS analyst, facility managers and occupants to optimize facility energy use (make things more efficient).

Through EMCS, HVAC retro-commissioning and lighting projects, JBER was able to reduce energy consumption by 155,044-MBTU (one MBTU is equivalent energy to 1 million BTUs or 293 kilowatt-hours), saving $1.5 million.

With the Every Dollar Counts campaign in full swing and tight budgets remaining for the foreseeable future, energy-saving ideas are likely to count more than ever. Whether they are considered "sustainability" or something else, energy truly does equal money, and officials have said saving it is a top priority.

More dollars can be saved by recycling

There is a lot of money tied up in trash. JBER spends about $90 per ton to dispose of trash, no matter what's in it. Some of the trash load is actually recyclable material, especially white paper.

When calculating costs where paper and cardboard are commodities (something that can be sold), every ton of white paper throws away $40 to $60 per ton in revenue. When adding the revenue that's thrown into the dumpster to the cost of disposal, the realized cost to JBER is $130 to $150. Conversely, every ton recycled saves JBER $130 to $150.

The challenge with recycling programs is they have to be zero-cost. Most municipalities are not looking for new ways to bleed money, and DoD is no different. There are buyers for used paper, cardboard and scrap metal, but if the participation is scarce, the harvest of the materials becomes more expensive than the revenue generated.

"We've only been capturing about 25 percent of the white paper going out of here. Most of (the recyclable paper) is going into the dumpster," said Mark Prieksat, Joint Base Environmental Compliance chief. "There's no law that says 'you have to recycle'... No one's going to give you a fine because you didn't recycle ... It almost has to become an ethic; you can't force people to do it."

Both Prieksat and Sonny Turpin, JBER energy manager, agreed the ethical thing is to remember the dollars spent on the installation are intended to support the service members and families. If that money is instead used to discard paper for the sake of convenience or light an unoccupied room, it's not the best stewardship.

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