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Posted 3/26/2015

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By Julia Bobick
U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, is executing a holistic energy portfolio management approach for helping Army organizations and other federal agencies achieve federal energy mandates, reduce energy consumption and enhance energy security.

Energy Division staff had the opportunity to explain their energy and sustainability efforts to Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy and Federal Environmental Executive Kate Brandt earlier this year during a tour of Stennis Lock in Mississippi on Mobile District’s Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, the site of the Center’s first-ever USACE civil works Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC) project.

Through the $3 million ESPC, Mobile District is retrofitting and replacing lighting at 46 locations along the 234-mile Tenn-Tom Waterway, which will result in guaranteed savings of more than $172,700 in the first year alone. The 143 lighting upgrades at Stennis Lock, 1 of 10 on the waterway, are nearly complete on the lock walls, inside the control building, on the adjacent spillway structure and in nearby recreation areas.

“At first glance, swapping some light bulbs may seem like a small, unremarkable project. But improved lighting is actually one of the most straightforward and commonsense ways to improve energy efficiency. And the benefits are far from small,” Brandt said on the White House Council on Environmental Quality Blog following the Jan. 21 visit. “In the federal government we’re committed to doing our part to improve lighting efficiency and save taxpayer dollars.”

Total savings during the 22-year ESPC contract with Siemens Government Technologies are estimated at $5.2 million, and the district had no upfront costs.

“Third-party financing projects like this bring tremendous success, especially when a customer fully embraces and takes ownership of it,” said Paul Robinson, who delivered the presentation on Huntsville Center’s energy management programs and capabilities.

Mobile District’s Tenn-Tom Waterway Operations Manager Rick Saucer, who provided an overview of the expansive waterway and led a tour of the lock operations, said that while the upgrades will provide a significant cost benefit from both the energy savings and reduced operations and maintenance, they have also significantly improved visibility in every location. Several Stennis Lock operators shared their amazement at how much more of the dam and the lock channel they can now see at night under the new lights.

“Lighting is not as sexy as other energy conservation measures, but it makes a difference,” said Rob Mackey, the ESPC program manager at Huntsville Center, explaining that rigorous measurement and verification processes are crucial to ESPC Program success moving forward.

Educating people about how ESPCs work is incredibly important, according to Col. Robert Ruch, commander of Huntsville Center, the Corps of Engineers’ technical center of expertise for ESPC. While the energy conservation technology can be easily understood, he said the third-party financing process can be more of a challenge to explain.

ESPCs leverage industry expertise and private sector third-party financing to make comprehensive energy and water efficiency improvements or implement renewable energy capabilities at federal facilities. The energy service contractor provides the operations and maintenance through the contract term (up to 25 years) in exchange for a portion of the generated savings.

“We provide the tools and that expertise to help organizations achieve their goals,” Ruch said.

For the best results at any location, Robinson said a full combination of energy management and conservation tools must be used. In addition to ESPCs, Huntsville Center’s Energy Division toolbox includes comprehensive energy audits, planning support including assistance with Net Zero implementation, Energy Conservation Investment Program project validation, resource efficiency managers, commercial utility rate reduction, power purchase agreements and energy infrastructure management.

Additional USACE civil works ESPC projects are moving forward with Pittsburgh District, the Mississippi Valley and Southwestern divisions and the Humphreys Engineer Center Support Activity in Virginia.

“I see the ESPC pipeline we have as healthy and moving in the right direction,” Robinson said, sharing his appreciation for South Atlantic Division and Mobile District for working through the process with them to make it a success. “They have worked with us closely through the past year, which has really helped us get to the point where we are today: delivering and awarding successful ESPCs for the Corps of Engineers.”

Energy ESPC Tombigbee