For Energy Efficiency, US Air Force Aims High In Oklahoma

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Energy efficiency seems to play second fiddle when it comes to attention-grabbing clean tech news, but the US Air Force is determined to make its Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma a national model for energy efficiency retrofits. Also known as the home of the recently reclaimed 56-year-old B-52H “Ghost Rider” Stratofortress bomber, Tinker already has a 30% overall energy savings under its belt, and it is aiming at 44% with a new round of updates.

Air Force energy efficiency conservation recycling

How Low Can Tinker Go?

Clearly, there is a floor to energy efficiency in specialized facilities, so you’re not likely to see a Passive House version of Tinker AFB on the horizon.

A previous round of energy efficiency efforts in 2012 focused on ditching the base’s steam heat grid in favor of a decentralized system and the installation of a smart metering system.

The new round of upgrades zeroes in on the utility plant that serves the massive, 2.9 million square foot assembly plant located on site. The upgrades include:

· Replacing the steam and heating hot water system with modern boilers

· Updating the chilled water and thermal energy storage system

· Retrofitting lighting fixtures with more energy-efficient systems

· Modernizing the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system

· Optimizing the compressed air system

· Implementing various water conservation measures

All together, the upgrades are expected to cut 178,627 tons out of Tinker’s carbon footprint.

Local utility Oklahoma Gas + Electricity is spearheading the project, which includes Honeywell Building Solutions. HBS is contributing its Honeywell Energy Manager. The software will enable energy managers to pinpoint the use of natural gas and electricity used in base operations.

Who’s Gonna Pay For All This?

In case you’re wondering if US taxpayers are shelling out for all these goodies, we’re not.

The $19.1 million project will be paid for through savings on the base’s utility bills, through an energy savings services contract with the local utility OG & E.

If this is starting to sound like the now-familiar power purchase agreements that have become staples of solar financing, that’s the idea. The facility owners — that would be the taxpaying public — pays no money up front for the energy efficiency upgrades.

That looks like a real bargain when you consider what shape the old utility plant is in. Here’s a brief history from Tinker:

…General Motors Co. originally installed coal-fired boilers for the defunct auto plant that began production in 1979. The Air Force acquired the building in 2008 with help from the local community.

Excessive energy costs, leaks, and other mechanical problems with the utility plant prompted the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex to rent temporary boilers that needed 24/7 management to meet the building’s heating needs. The new system will be automated.

“The boilers were too big, they were old and they were leaking continuously,” according to a base energy manager cited by Tinker.  “We were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars every year repairing them.”

We won’t have to wait long for payback to begin. The work is expected to be completed by the end of this year, with an anticipated $3.5 million in annual savings.

Renewable Energy For Oklahoma

As an oil and gas hotspot — and home state of the famous snowball-toting Senator James Inhofe —  Oklahoma has been pouring a lot of effort into promoting its fossil identity.

However, some nicks are appearing in the fossil fuel sheen. Tinker AFB’s high profile energy efficiency upgrade is one example.

Another example is the state’s wind industry. You wouldn’t know it from all the attention that the state’s oil and gas industries get, but Oklahoma ranks fourth in the nation for wind energy generation.

OG&E has been riding that trend with a current roster of 800 megawatts of wind energy to its credit, up from just 50 a few years ago.

Here’s where the state ranked in wind job creation last year, according to the American Wind Energy Association’s recap for 2015:

Texas leads the nation with over 24,000 wind energy employees. Wind project construction propelled Oklahoma to second place with more than 7,000 jobs. Rounding out the top five are Iowa and Colorado with over 6,000 jobs, and after moving up 11 spots, Kansas ranks fifth with over 5,000 wind workers. Maine gained the most in the state wind employment rankings, rising 16 spots.

Number 2 — who knew? And that was last year. This year, as of September the company Enel Green Power North America is already heading for the one-gigawatt mark in Oklahoma.

The solar picture in Oklahoma is still pretty dismal in terms of installed capacity. According to the last rundown from the Solar Energy Industries Association, the state ranks 45th in the nation, with a measly 5.2 megawatts.

Industry observers mark part of the problem down to state policies that discourage third-party ownership of solar arrays.

On the bright side, a full 3.7 megawatts of that total were installed in 2015 alone, giving it an impressive-looking 526% year-over-year increase compared to 2014.

OG&E accounts for a big chunk of that installed solar total. Just last year, the utility put a 2.5 megawatt solar farm online.

Interestingly, the state’s top fossil booster, Governor Mary Fallin, made a point of attending the facility’s grand opening and provided this comment:

“Now to add solar power into our energy mix in our state is truly a great accomplishment. I’m very excited to see where this goes in the state of Oklahoma.”

Further evidence that Oklahoma is transitioning into a more sustainable energy profile also comes from Fallin, who recently issued an emergency order shutting down a slew of oil and gas wastewater disposal wells in response to earthquake hazards.

Another interesting development is a new “uniquely clean and green” steel recycling plant in Oklahoma, which is serving as a national showcase for the US Energy Department’s Better Plants program.

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Photo (cropped): “Ghost Rider,” heads home to Minot Air Force Base, N.D., where it will rejoin the B-52H fleet. After undergoing a nine-month overhaul and upgrade by the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, 61-007 left Tinker Air Force Base Sept. 27. The historic aircraft is the first B-52H to ever be regenerated from long-term storage with the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., and returned to full operational flying status.” (Air Force photo by Mark Hybers)

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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