Keeping the lights on at JBM-HH -- sustainably and responsibly

By Alice SwanMay 11, 2022

In an effort to reduce greenhouse gases. solar arrays were installed on the rooftops of the National Defense University buildings and fitness center on Fort McNair in 2017.
In an effort to reduce greenhouse gases. solar arrays were installed on the rooftops of the National Defense University buildings and fitness center on Fort McNair in 2017. (Photo Credit: Jeff Heeny) VIEW ORIGINAL

For those living and working on or using Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall facilities some things are taken for granted. Flip a switch, lights come on and computers boot. The heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems produce heat in winter and cool air through the summer. Commissary freezers keep the ice cream frozen and the pinsetter resets the pins for your next roll at the Strike Zone bowling center. Very few of us consider the behind-the-scenes work taking place every day to ensure the infrastructure that keeps these Army installations ‘rolling along’ stays resilient, and from now on - climate neutral.

The release of the Department of the Army Climate Strategy plan has placed a sense of urgency on the mission of building sustainability, resiliency and readiness into the force while mitigating factors causing climate change. But according to the team members managing the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall and Fort McNair energy and environmental programs, important steps have already been taken to reduce carbon emissions, save on energy costs and improve facility resilience.

Through evaluation studies such as the Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC), the Installation Energy and Water Plan, and Military Installation Resiliency Review (MIRR), JBM-HH has been able to identify potential problem areas and prioritize those repairs to help reduce any negative environmental impacts, explained Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Master Planner Matthew Fortunato.

Fortunato noted that the recently completed MIRR planning guide is an important tool to build sustainability into the two historic posts uniquely situated in rapidly growing urban areas.
The planning guide includes input from post stakeholders and local government agencies to identify hazards and stressors outside the installation that could cause vulnerabilities.

“For example, at Fort McNair, our number one vulnerability is flooding, so we are concerned about future sea level rise caused by global warming,” said Fortunato. “Three quarters of the base is within a 500-year floodplain, but we have several buildings that are in a 100-year floodplain. Also, the population growth and encroachment of development outside the gates of McNair and JBM-HH are becoming security and transportation issues. The MIRR will help us develop flood mitigation efforts, along with necessary security and traffic flow improvements.”

When it comes to responsibly managing the posts’ energy systems, Bill Lucas, chief mechanical engineer in JBM-HH’s energy management division, called it a two-pronged mission. His group is focused on building energy-efficient and carbon neutral infrastructure while also ensuring its resiliency in the face of extreme weather events or possible terrorist attacks.

“Energy resilience is a Department of the Army requirement,” explained Lucas. “The installation must be able to sustain critical buildings’ operations during a crisis event for 14 days. In the event of an emergency, you have to provide access to water, electricity or gas for two weeks.”

“We have built resiliency into our system with generators, potable water containment, and by creating a system for getting fuel for our generators,” Lucas added. “We also maintain resiliency for our electric grid through a utilities privatization contract with Dominion Energy which was started about 15 years ago by the Department of Defense. The main electric system that feeds the base and the Pentagon is owned by Dominion Energy and the company maintains all the generators at JBM-HH and McNair that feed critical buildings.”
He noted that under the contract, Dominion Energy constructed a new highly secure substation on the joint base a few years ago that is built for redundancy of the main power feed – strengthening the electrical grid serving the base and the Pentagon, resulting in fewer outages and service interruptions.

The effort to create a more efficient and climate friendly energy system is assisted by programs like the recent ESPC Feasibility Study Report, Lucas shared. ESPC specialists surveyed the installations’ electrical, water and HVAC systems to see where energy saving features can be applied.

Among the recommendations now under review are adding new efficient water flow devices to buildings, converting all lighting to light-emitting diode, or LED, and installing HVAC master control systems.

“Based on our previous ESPC review, for years we have been installing new boilers that have 96 percent efficiency which is reducing our emissions and consumption,” said Lucas. “We are also spending money on getting central control systems that can help set heating, cooling and lighting to minimum levels for when buildings aren’t in use. The central chiller plant for the Old Guard barracks buildings will be upgraded this year, which I know the Soldiers will appreciate.”

“As far as reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs), we had a big win with our project at Fort McNair, ”Lucas added. “In 2017 solar arrays were installed on the rooftops of the National Defense University buildings and fitness center. We are now generating renewable energy at these buildings, which gets fed back into the power grid to help reduce GHG emissions. We are currently working with Dominion Energy to add solar panels to some of the buildings at JBM-HH.”

Richard LaFreniere, chief of JBM-HH’s environmental management division, said this work means the installations are not emitting carbons while using the energy supplies coming into the bases.

“With our continuing upgrades to high efficiency HVAC systems and boilers, along with clean generators, we will lower our GHG emissions even more,” said LaFreniere. “The other work Bill and his team are doing helps as well – such as smart control systems for HVAC systems, and upgrading the historic buildings so they are not losing all their hot or cool air – to reduce energy use and emissions.”

LaFreniere explained that his division is a key partner in helping JBM-HH reduce its impact on the natural environment. The group ensures energy infrastructure meets all governmental regulatory requirements, so the base isn’t contributing GHGs into the environment. LaFreniere’ s division plans landscaping featuring more native species that require less watering to aid water usage reduction.

“With our cultural resources of historic buildings such as at Fort McNair, we also make sure that all projects for those buildings take into account the potential for future sea rise and flooding, ensuring those structures will be protected moving forward into the future.” LaFreniere added. He shared that when he started working for the Army in 2005, thoughts about energy efficiency programs, net-zero initiatives and adding electric vehicles were driven mainly by potential cost savings.

“Now that these ideas have been tied into climate change, it’s become not just about costs but the resilience of the entire world,” LaFreniere noted.

“We are seeing the tangible effects of not hitting environmental goals as quickly as we should have and how that has affected the resilience of installations. I believe this will drive things faster through more funding and resourcing to help us meet the ACS goals. Our JBM-HH team will be ready.”