LUKE AIR FORCE BASE ENERGY MANAGER JOHN LI stands on the base exchange’s roof, which is covered by solar panels. Sixty to 70 percent of the building’s energy is powered by the panels.
Luke Air Force Base, which serves about 100,000 people a year, spends about $7 million a year on utilities. That may seem like a lot, but consider this comparison: A conservative annual utilities bill for a family of four at $1,500, multiplied by 25,000, comes to a whopping $37.5 million.
Impressed yet? Now take into account that Luke has reduced its overall energy consumption by 31 percent since 1985.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton passed an executive order that stated that the federal government had to improve its energy management by 35 percent by the year 2010 in order to save taxpayer dollars and reduce emissions that contribute to air pollution and global climate change.
"The problem we're having is the Air Force doesn't give us extra money to meet the numbers," said John Li, Luke's energy manager. "We know we have aging equipment and the buildings are using more energy, but we're not really getting money for it."
Starting in the late '90s, the base began using outside financing to fund projects.
"We really pay back the project by the money that we save, so that's how we finance all our energy projects here on base," Li said.
Luke is working on a $13 million conservation plan, which includes a few different projects.
Working with the private sector In November 2005, Luke had 452 solar panels installed on the roof of the base exchange, which encompasses a department store and restaurant.
The maximum energy output from the panels is 370 kilowatt-hours, which is enough to power about 100 homes. In the middle of the afternoon, 60-70 percent of the building's energy is powered by the panels.
The first half of the project is finished, but because the next phase includes replacing the air conditioning units, it will have to wait until the weather cools.
Arizona Public Service Co. financed $1.5 million for the project and Honeywell International also arranged financing and has done an engineering study to make sure it is feasible.
"Teams of engineers will go out to a site like Luke and work with their counterparts, who are engineers on the base, to determine how the mechanical equipment works - how it works now and what would the base envision as an optimal program," said Ron Blagus, energy market director for Honeywell.
Honeywell started working with Luke on energy conservation projects in 2000. As a result of all of the projects, Luke has reduced its energy usage by 27.9 million kilowatt-hours per year, which is equal to 57 million pounds of carbon dioxide, Blagus said.
"When we do a project like this, it saves money, but just as importantly, it provides predictability for budgeting purposes," he said. "That's what we try to bring to clients like Luke, and virtually every other client that Honeywell has who goes through a program like this."
Space-age technology Another energy saving device can be found in the dorm rooms on base. The air conditioning is actually controlled by a motion sensor. If nobody is in the room, the device turns the temperature up, but when a person re-enters the room, the air conditioning gets turned back down.
"That's probably one of the best projects as far as energy conservation," Li said.
Some of the buildings also use motion sensors for the lights.
"We only use it if it makes sense," Li said. "For instance, a wide open area with a lot of cubicles wouldn't work, because people walk around all the time. You don't want someone sitting in his cubicle and the lights go off."
The sensors in the dorms can also sense body heat and therefore remember when someone is in the room, so if a person is sleeping, it won't shut the AC off, Li said.
Two large air conditioning units in other buildings are also going to be replaced. The ones in place now are run by natural gas, but because gas prices have gone up in the last couple of years, it's more economical to run electric ones.
In an effort to keep areas cooler, 90 buildings recently received new fluorescent lights, which are more efficient and use less energy.
"We like to do things that will not impact the way we do business," Li said. "We don't want to go around to buildings and tell people to shut off all their lights. We concentrate on replacing equipment versus telling people not to use it."
The base's last big conservation project cost $13.8 million and ran from 1999 to 2001. It included new air conditioning units for base housing, replacing lights in 150 buildings and installing daylight fixtures that shut lights off in the daytime.
Luke also uses an industrial water treatment system, because there are a lot of impurities in the base's water system, Li said.
"By cleaning up the water, the equipment will last longer and run more efficiently," he added.
Another water feature is an underground storage tank, which can hold half a million gallons of water. During the night, when electricity is less expensive, four large air conditioning units make cold water and fill up the tank. The water in the tank is then used first during the day.
With everything that Luke does to conserve energy, the base has already met the 2010 conservation target set by Clinton's executive order, but there's always room for improvement, Li said.