Greening of the Guard
BY MAUREEN O'CONNELL
Advertiser Staff Writer
The U.S. Coast Guard is making green-minded changes in the Pacific, including lighting retrofits and solar panels, and forging plans to put in place innovative technology that will conserve even more energy.
The Hawai'i-based effort is already saving the Coast Guard a cool half-million dollars each year — and wind-powered turbines and a radio communication system that will let airborne pilots turn runway lights on and off by remote command are in the works.
The initiative got its start about 2 1/4 years ago, when Capt. John Hickey, commanding officer of Shore Maintenance Command, Honolulu, called a "sustainability objectives meeting" to set goals for saving energy.
The immediate response? Crickets.
"Nobody knew what I was talking about in the beginning," Hickey recalled.
That quickly changed, however, when an 11-member team of civilian and military technicians fanned out to search Coast Guard sites for energy blunders and potential environmental missteps.
"It's actually incredible how many inefficiencies you can find once you start looking," said Lt. Ryan Murphy, an industrial service manager for the Coast Guard in Honolulu. "Most of the time they're right under your nose."
Among the biggest cost-savers so far: retrofitting incandescent and high-pressure sodium lighting to more energy-efficient fluorescent and light emitting diode — LED — fixtures; switching to appliances that meet rigorous federal energy-saving standards; installing urinals that require 88 percent less water; and growing plants that thrive without an irrigation system.
The changes are already saving the Coast Guard's 42-acre Sand Island base an estimated total of $500,000 a year, Hickey said, noting that in recent years the annual electric bill for the O'ahu base has hit $2 million.
In one of the larger retrofit projects, Murphy used a light meter to gauge outdoor lighting and pinpoint "overlamping" at Sand Island. The result: "We've reduced the wattage by 80 percent," he said.
Projects are also under way at other stations across the state and in Saipan and Guam. Throughout the Pacific area, work is being shouldered by Coast Guard technicians and private-sector contractors.
During a recent trip to Station Maui, Hickey's team found ways to reduce electricity costs there by 20 percent, making upgrades in the air conditioning system and installing sensors to turn off the lights in unoccupied rooms. Similar moves are in the works at Station Kaua'i and Air Station Barbers Point, said Lt. Cmdr. Caesar Acosta, commanding officer of the Coast Guard's Civil Engineering Unit, Honolulu.
This summer, Acosta said, a wind turbine will be installed at Barbers Point to serve as a power supply for the station's guard shack. "When the wind is blowing, it's going to service the shack's electrical items and recharge batteries," he said. When the wind dies, power will be drawn from charged batteries.
The air station's taxiway is also slated for a green makeover.
First, Acosta plans to swap incandescent lights, which now burn from dusk to dawn, for LEDs that can "burn a lot brighter while consuming only one-tenth of the energy of an incandescent."
Then, technicians will install a special radio system that lets pilots switch runway area lights on and off while in flight. "It will be an on-demand system." Acosta said.
The team is also tapping into solar power. It has installed solar water heaters at various sites, and is putting together a solar plan to revamp the 14th Coast Guard District commander's quarters in Diamond Head as a "net-zero" facility — one that produces as much electricity as it uses, Acosta said.
Other recent environmental upgrades include: establishing a lead-free firing range; creating a focus on recycling; doing away with plastic bags at base exchange shops; and phasing out the purchase of cleaning products and other fluids containing hazardous materials.
"In the old days, we had all kinds of chlorinated hydrocarbons and solvents and nasty carcinogenic chemicals" on bases, Hicks said. "We just don't buy them anymore."
Hickey assembled the sustainability-tasked team in response to mandates such as the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which requires energy audits on federal facilities.
In addition to checking meters and installing energy-efficient equipment, Hickey's team is also charged with promoting sustainability awareness among the 14th District's 1,096 active duty Coast Guard members and 158 civilian members.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Liboy, an engineer stationed at Base Support Unit, Honolulu, said, "This initiative is to correct human error." He added, "It's mind-boggling to see how easy it is to save money ... but a lot of people don't have the knowledge. It's very important to get that out there."
Hickey agreed. "I couldn't be prouder of him," he said of Liboy. "He's been out there day-to-day, making improvements and saving us money."