Robins personnel putting energy into conservation

WARNER ROBINS — Robins Air Force Base receives its power bill just like any household and, just like anyone else, a late payment results in late fees.

In 2008, the base paid more than $21 million for electricity, and if the base was a day late paying its power bill the result would be several thousand dollars in fees — and likely some high-level unhappiness. Like almost any military installation, Robins Air Force Base consumes energy at a higher rate than most utility customers. Around 20,000 people work and live on Robins Air Force Base, yet it uses as much energy as a city of 100,000.

Now, a six-person team housed inside the base headquarters is trying to change that.

“We’re approaching this like a three-legged stool: Awareness and conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy,” said Arthur Howard, an energy manager with the Robins Energy Office.

First comes the easy part. The Robins Energy Office has covered the base with reminders to use less energy. A marquee meets drivers entering the base with a reminder to use as little energy as possible during peak energy usage hours. They even have their own mascot, Commander Kill-A-Watt, a cartoon character with an exaggerated physique and a giant “K” on its chest.

“This year we’re working toward a 10 percent electricity reduction,” Howard said. “That’s our goal.”

Goals will soon become mandates.

The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act was approved by the House within the first 100 hours of its new Democratic majority. In a rare image of bipartisanship, former President George W. Bush signed the bill in December of that year with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., looking over his shoulder.

According to the law, all federal buildings must reduce electricity usage by 30 percent from 2003 levels by 2015.

When the law goes into effect, Robins Air Force Base will need to be far more energy efficient and use far more renewable energy sources than it does today.

“If you want to solve these mandates, you’ve got to go for it,” said Col. Debra Bean, the vice commander of the 78th Air Base Wing, the unit charged with maintaining the base. “You can’t do them by turning out the lights.”

The act also demands an increase in the use of renewable energy sources. By the end of this fiscal year, the base will need to generate 3 percent of its energy from renewable energy sources. By 2012, the bar will be set at 5 percent. The mandate moves precipitously from there.

“By 2025, we have to have 25 percent of our energy from a renewable energy source,” said Judah Bradley, the manager of the Base Energy Office.

By 2030, not one watt of energy for any new building may come from any fossil fuel-based energy source.

In order to meet the mandates, Robins needs help and is getting it from some outside sources.

Last year, representatives from the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority, and students from Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia visited the base to study ways to meet the new mandates.

Taking what they learned from the study group, Bean and the Robins Energy Office are working on, according to Bean, a “first of its kind endeavor” with Southern Company to refit the base’s energy grid. Bean would not identify what ideas are being worked on, but promised the coalition was looking to “go bold.”

To contact writer Thomas L. Day, call 744-4489.