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The Mountaineer Online

Conservation efforts earn savings, accolades for post

This motor transport shop is one of several on 5th Armored Division Drive equipped with solar air-heating technology. The blue-grey paneled SolarWalls were installed facing south to absorb as much sun as possible during North Country winters. Photo by Paul Steven Ghiringhelli.
This motor transport shop is one of several on 5th Armored Division Drive equipped with solar air-heating technology. The blue-grey paneled SolarWalls were installed facing south to absorb as much sun as possible during North Country winters. Photo by Paul Steven Ghiringhelli.

Paul Steven Ghiringhelli

Staff Writer

Ever since a global energy crisis clogged America’s streets decades ago with cars clamoring for a limited supply of gas, U.S. and military leaders have recognized the country’s need for energy independence.

The need today has never been greater, according to Steve Rowley, Fort Drum’s energy program manager since 1986.

“The push for energy conservation initially came from the energy crisis in 1973-74,” Rowley said. “In the last 10 years, the nation’s focus on energy has been much greater, and therefore the Army’s focus has been greater. They are very concerned about getting renewable energy, conserving what we have and becoming self-sufficient.

“The Army has had a policy for reducing its petroleum consumption for decades now,” he added. “One of the reasons – energy is a security issue. There are countries in this world that would shut us down tomorrow if given the opportunity.”

Energy efficiency is not just a security issue; cutting energy costs saves money and helps preserve the environment as well.

Since 2003, energy projects on post have saved the Army more than $14 million. Public Works engineers have converted heating systems from oil to natural gas, reinsulated buildings, upgraded boilers, established remote-controlled monitoring of HVAC utilities in a majority of the buildings on post, converted key facilities to LED lighting and, perhaps most impressively, installed SolarWalls in more than 30 buildings to date.

“Originally, there were a lot of skeptics of the SolarWall system,” Rowley recalled.

 He called the manufacturer in Canada and eventually managed to fund an Energy Conservation Investment Program project for the first 27 buildings on Fort Drum to be equipped with SolarWalls. Most of the buildings required heavy ventilation, such as hangars, vehicle maintenance shops and warehouses.

Rowley said a SolarWall must face in a southerly direction, so that the sun warms its dark metal and a fan inside the building pulls the air through a cavity to release it near the ceiling.

“It basically preheats the air,” he said. “On a large building, for ventilation purposes, you can’t just dump raw air into the building. You have to heat it first.

“If it is 30 degrees F outside on a nice sunny day, it can get up to 80 degrees F in the SolarWall,” he added. “It’s free heat. There is no fuel cost. You’re heating the air with solar (power).”

According to Conserval Engineering Inc., makers of the SolarWall, Fort Drum contains the largest and most extensive collection of solar air-heated buildings in the world. It led the New York Solar Energy Industries Association earlier this year to award Fort Drum the 2010 Best Federal Government Project of the Year Award.

SolarWalls are currently being considered for the new indoor rifle range as well.

“The other added benefit of SolarWalls,” Rowley said, “is they lower carbon dioxide emissions (in the atmosphere) by reducing the amount of fossil fuels burned with conventional heating systems.”

Rowley said projects on Fort Drum can be funded through programs such as Energy Savings Performance Contracting, in which an energy service company proposes an energy-saving project, funds the project, brings in experts to assess each facet of the plan and actually performs all the work.

The ESCO is paid annually out of the energy savings generated.

“If you want to do a large-scale project, trying to get government funding can take forever, or never,” Rowley said. “Using an ESCO, they bring in a lot of expertise that you don’t have, from lighting experts to geothermal experts. Also, they have a big incentive to do it and to do it right, because they get paid out of the real-life savings.”

One such project that is more than a third of the way completed involves HVAC equipment giant Trane Company. The two-year, $14 million project will upgrade the lighting, controls and HVAC systems in nearly every permanent structure on Fort Drum.

“When it’s finished, it will generate savings that are determined using a methodology called ‘measurement and verification,’” Rowley said. “That savings is used to justify an annual payment. We’ll pay them off in about 14 years.”

Another energy-saving initiative implemented at Fort Drum involves geothermal heating and cooling systems in new construction projects, such as Army Corps of Engineers work at a child development center under construction.

“I’m quite pleased with the designs we’re getting from the Corps of Engineers,” Rowley said. “They are really trying hard to make these buildings efficient in their designs and their construction.”

Rowley also mentioned the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s Energy Star program, which Actus Lend Lease incorporated into the Residential Communities Initiative that privatized Army housing several years ago.

“RCI is a real success story at Fort Drum,” he said. “I pushed hard for the NYSERDA Energy Star program.”

According to the NYSERDA program, Energy Star homes incorporate technologies that use approximately 30 percent less energy than conventionally built homes.

Rowley said New York state sends a rebate to Actus for Energy Star-approved homes. He said for the 3,669 energy-efficient homes completed so far, Actus has received $1.2 million in rebates.

“It more than covers any additional costs you might have used to be more energy-efficient,” Rowley noted. “It’s a nice program, because if you do a good job, you get rewarded with a check in the mail.”

For all of his work in energy conservation so far, Rowley said Fort Drum is on target to continue to improve its sustainability and energy readiness.

“The U.S. military has very aggressive goals for becoming self-sufficient in energy,” he said. “This is because they see it as a readiness issue – if you lose your energy, you shut down your post.

“Fort Drum is meeting or exceeding its energy-saving goals.”

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