Fort Carson’s lofty Net-Zero goals could create thousands of new jobs

The 4th Brigade Combat Team Brigade and Battalion Headquarters is Fort Carson's first U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum certified facility. The building features a 482KW solar array behind the facility. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

The 4th Brigade Combat Team Brigade and Battalion Headquarters is Fort Carson’s first U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum certified facility. The building features a 482KW solar array behind the facility. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

By Frank Cook

Fort Carson in Colorado is one of the most energy-aware Army bases in the country – one striving to be a template of efficiency for military installations everywhere – but it’s still having a hard time keeping up with the i-revolution.

That’s “i” as in iPads, iPhones, iTablets and iEverything else that needs to be plugged in and charged up in this electronic world.

“We used 2003 as our baseline year for energy use,” says Vince Guthrie. “Well, back then, you had might have had a CR monitor on your desk that drew twice as much energy as your flat-screen does today, but you only had one of them. Today everybody has at least two flat-screens, plus we’ve got phones to plug in, tablets, and computers that are on all night. Our plug load is tremendous.

“Plus, like everywhere else, lifestyles are different. Back then, not every building was air conditioned. Today, air conditioning is in all the housing and offices.”

By education, Guthrie is an industrial engineer and by title he is the Utilities Program Manager at Fort Carson, the 137,000-acre base south of Colorado Springs. He doesn’t consider the uptick in energy use a problem as much as it is a challenge – a challenge set by the DOD itself.

In 2006, the Department of the Army named Fort Carson and Fort Bliss in El Paso as pilot sites for the military’s Net-Zero Energy, Water and Waste program. The target date was 2020. And while getting to zero by then is a stretch, Fort Carson is gaining on that goal. Making it even more of a challenge is that Net-Zero initiative came with no funding attached. Progress is paid for out of savings achieved.

The base has more than doubled in size since 2003, and part of that growth has been $2 billion in construction projects. All of its new buildings are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified – 38 silver, 38 gold and 2 platinum.

“These are all construction jobs that are coming out of the local community,” Guthrie said. “Our water efficiency upgrade was probably one of the largest in the nation. We changed out thousands of showerheads. The showerheads were produced by a small U.S. manufacturer, enabling him to grow his business. With that investment, he has been able to drive his market to other facilities, including prisons.”

Part of work done under an energy savings performance contract in 2013, contractors prepare to install new water-efficient toilets in the barracks. (U.S. Army - Fort Carson)

Part of work done under an energy savings performance contract in 2013, contractors prepare to install new water-efficient toilets in the barracks. (U.S. Army – Fort Carson)

Fort Carson, the home of the 4th Infantry Division, had hoped for an energy reduction of 30 percent by 2015 (compared to its baseline use in 2003) and a reduction of 37.5 percent by 2020. The reduction is currently at about 16 percent which, considering the installation’s growth, can be seen as progress. It has launched a program asking personnel to turn off their computers when they leave work – which will save taxpayers an estimated $250,000 per year – and is researching powering down buildings at the end of the work day through a centralized network.

While the majority of the base’s energy still comes from coal and natural gas, as supplied by Colorado Springs Utilities, 40 percent of the power it buys from the company is wind generated.

Solar also is making inroads at the base, and is an example of future efficiency. In 2007, the base installed a 2 megawatt solar array at a cost of $6 per watt. More recently it installed another 1.4 megawatt array at a cost of $2.50 per watt. “So the cost of solar is coming down, but it’s still not quite there to make the numbers work.”

Even if it were, Guthrie does not ever foresee Fort Carson going off-grid. “Our partnership with Colorado Springs Utilities is too important. It gives us diversity of sources and helps keep our costs low.”

Guthrie also credits the Army’s partnership with the National Renewal Energy Lab (NREL) for doing the research and developing the concepts that Fort Carson is implementing. “NREL has really pushed the envelope for us. They’ve pioneered a lot of this and opened the landscape of opportunity.”

The base also is working to reduce vehicular energy use with the purchase of six electric vehicles – including a truck and a bus. As more charging stations open on the base (and around the country) Guthrie feels that technology is nearly ready to be exploited. The base also offers online carpooling assistance for those commuting to the base, and an on-base “Give a Buddy a Ride” program where people can wait at stations to catch rides with those who are going in the same direction.

Fort Carson currently has six electric vehicles in its fleet, including a truck used to pick up recyclable materials on post. (U.S. Army - Fort Carson)

Fort Carson currently has six electric vehicles in its fleet, including a truck used to pick up recyclable materials on post. (U.S. Army – Fort Carson)

There also are more bicycle lanes so soldiers and workers can move around the base without cars, and traffic circles have been installed instead of stop signs to reducing idling.

In all, NREL projects that if Fort Carson can accomplish its current goals, it could reduce CO2 emissions by 424,000 tons per year and create 7,500 new jobs.

“The base could potentially achieve a 92 percent site Btu reduction and a 95 percent source Btu reduction,” NREL said in its projections. “If Fort Carson achieves this status, it will set an example for other military installations, provide environmental benefits, reduce costs, increase energy security, and exceed its goals and mandates.”