Friday, May 11, 2012

Not Just the Good News: Wisdom from the Air Force Energy Express and Endless Observations

Air Force Energy Assessment Team, Jan 2010
Over the past few months, the Air Force Facilities Energy Center (AFFEC)  has provided a running review of current Air Force energy efforts in the form of the very excellent Energy Express. AFFEC is a wholly owned subsidiary of the AF Civil Engineering Support Agency (AFCESA) and handles all AF energy related issue  If you haven’t read the Energy Express (EE), they are available here.  It has recently gone from a quarterly to monthly publication and serves an audience of military, industry and utilities partners.  A couple of interesting articles in the last few months caught my eye and I recommend the magazine to all interested in DOD energy.

In the February issue there was a brief mention of the AF’s Sustainable Infrastructure Assessments (SIA) that are ongoing.  The purposed of the SIAs are twofold.  One is to meet the requirement for quadrennial assessments of all real property for energy status and, two, is to establish a priority for investment.  The Air Force is getting help from the Army Corps of Engineers (COE) on the process.  What peaked my interest  is that, since the AF recognizes that it will have to use third party financing to achieve their energy conservation goals and that those vehicles usually involve a no cost energy assessment in order to determine the energy saving measures (ESMs) to apply, is the AF wasting money and delaying the start of projects by going through the SIA process?  Does the COE have the same expertise (and cost) as commercial entities that do this for a living? If the government is paying itself to perform government mandated energy assessments, have we created a self-licking ice cream cone?  The article implied that the AF and COE would be conducting the level 2 audits, but a quick query to the staff at EE affirmed that the COE was only helping in the contracting for companies to do the audits (whew!).  Still, are there going to do dual audits?

The May issue has a piece on the gap between operational energy and facility energy.  At our large “forward operating bases” we really do not have operational energy or facility energy; we have LOGCAP energy.  A recent survey by AFCESA at Al Udeid  Air Base in Qatar found that the enduring base was paying a variety of rates for its electricity, from $.07 to $.49 a kilowatt hour.   (A base designated as enduring can use military construction dollars instead of expeditionary funding to pay for infrastructure development.)  Besides the disparate rate structure, the AFCESA team noted that individual window AC units could be replaced, saving millions annually.  They also recommended spray foam and other thermal insulation for many of the large tension fabric shelters that require environmental control.   These are all brilliant recommendations….. just as they were in January 2010.

January 2010 was when the Air Force Energy Assessment Team outbriefed the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force on the results of the operational energy assessment done in theater earlier that month.  Many of the recommendations made by the AFCESA could have been quoted from the AFEAT’s report…or the Marine Energy Assessment Team report….or the Power Surety Task Force Report….or...    

Last month I received a call from a friend of mine who had just returned from theater where he was doing an assessment of Army operational energy.  I reeled off what he had found before he began talking.  The findings continue to be the same,  as are the recommendation.  I am assuming someone in the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs has pulled copies of all these reports, collated the like observations and has told the Service, “Hey, this has already been observed; just go fix it!”.   I would truly like to believe that. 

I believe in measuring a hundred times so that I only have to cut once.  That being said, at some point you have to shoot the engineer and build the bridge.  Perhaps this is just a case of Doubting Thomas, but at some point we need to stop the studies and demonstrations and just build the bridge.  

My point was, (and I did have one), the AFFEC Energy Express is an excellent publication (way to go, Jennifer and Amy!) and I highly encourage the other Services invest in a similar communications tool.  It is a great way to spread the good ideas among engineers, but an even better means to enlighten commanders.  When the commander at Edwards AFB discovered that they had overpaid their electric bill by $3.67M (March 2012) and sought redress, I am sure other commanders (if they read the Express) would be going over their light bills with a fine tooth comb.  I salute the AF for doing the dirty laundry in public and not just telling the many good stories they could.   A smart man learns from his own mistakes; a wise man from the mistakes of others.  Dan Nolan

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