RAPID CITY, S.D. -- Stephen Smith, an employee for the South Dakota National Guard, decides to head to the office and work over a cold, winter weekend. It's a nice, quiet day because it's an off-drill weekend for traditional National Guard Soldiers.

Smith soon realizes that the temperature is a bit colder inside than usual. The thermostat is set to 50-55 degrees and no matter how the thermostat is adjusted, the temperature does not budge.

Buildings are set to lower temperatures during hours and days when they're vacated to decrease the amount of energy consumption they're using.

"As outside air is delivered into a building per original design, as if the building is fully occupied, we can use carbon dioxide air monitoring to minimize the amount of outside air needed for conditioning when it isn't fully occupied," said Michael Haltiner, SDNG operations and maintenance branch energy manager. "When we ventilate to this required amount (during unoccupied periods), it's called demand ventilation, which allows us to ventilate to real-world occupancy rather than to the building's max occupancy."

The SDNG's Operations and Maintenance Branch, Construction and Facilities Management Office, implemented this statewide automation system to remotely control heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems across 45 SDNG buildings throughout 15 South Dakota communities to maximize energy efficiency, which has been crucial in energy savings, said Haltiner.

The automation system also aids in controlling air handlers, heat pumps, water heaters, exterior lighting, boilers, furnaces and exhaust fans, to name a few.

Over the last 12 years, the SDNG has led the nation in efforts to reduce energy consumption, and its energy management program is designed to create a greener, safer and more cost-effective organization.

The statewide automation system is just one way in which the organization has improved its energy conservation efforts. Other projects include passive heating solar walls, redesign and replacement of HVAC and boiler systems, and the implementation and replacement of LED lighting in buildings throughout the state, said Haltiner.

"We also send out a quarterly awareness newsletter, we hold energy conservation competitions between armories, and the SDNG PAM 11-27 (Energy Program) demonstrates our leadership's support by providing guidelines for our energy conservation program," said Haltiner.

These modifications have resulted in an annual savings of $248,931 and a cumulative cost avoidance of well over $1 million since fiscal year 2010.

"The federal government is the largest U.S. consumer of energy," said Army Col. Scott Petrik, the construction and facilities management officer. "The president (in 2006) published an executive order mandating a 30 percent energy consumption reduction over a 10-year period. The South Dakota Army National Guard was one of two states in the nation to meet the requirements of the presidential executive order."

The executive order required each state to reduce their energy consumption efforts by at least 3 percent per year in order to reach their 30 percent 10-year goal. When Haltiner took over as the energy manager in 2010, the SDNG's energy consumption levels were at its highest.

"We actually had to reduce by more than 30 percent to reach our goal by 2015," said Haltiner. "Although, we were able to make it happen and surprisingly exceeded the goal by 2.5 percent."

The reduction efforts haven't gone unnoticed either, as the National Guard Bureau rewards the SDNG with increased funding allocations each year to continue making improvements for conservation efforts.

"Energy efficiency is absolutely the name of the game right now," said Stephen Smith, SDNG planning and programming branch engineer. We get what we ask for in funding because we are so successful, and that is a big deal."

The state received $120,000 for energy projects two years ago, $500,000 last year and will receive more than $850,000 this year.

The funding is critical because the new presidential executive order demands a decrease in energy consumption by 25 percent from 2016-2025. The SDNG is currently 0.5 percent ahead of its 2.5 percent per year reduction goal.

"Right now we're focusing our attention more toward renewable energy, so we're trying to get solar photovoltaic systems on our armories because of how efficient they are," said Haltiner. "The systems would also provide us with energy security because they can act as alternative energy sources."

The significance of the SDNG's success in energy consumption and its efforts moving forward has also had a positive impact for those in the organization.

"By being as efficient as we can, we're saving the state money as well so we have more money to spend on training for the Soldiers," said Haltiner.

Another way Haltiner has seen an impact is by noticing that people are also utilizing these new advances in their everyday lives. For example, people are beginning to use programmable thermostats and replacing lights in their homes with LED lights.

"The conservation program has individuals thinking about energy conservation when they may not have even thought about it otherwise, and it allows them to participate both at work and at home," said Haltiner.

Now whether it's Smith going in on a weekend for some additional work or a National Guard service member wanting to save some additional money at home, the lessons and advances that the SDNG have made over the last 10 years demonstrate the importance of energy efficiency and cost effectiveness.