REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--How would you like to get a $4 million utility bill?

Redstone's electric bill for July from the Tennessee Valley Authority was a whopping $4,070,793 and 83 cents. Energy manager Mark Smith of the Garrison confirmed that this was probably Redstone's largest monthly utility bill ever -- "until we get August" -- but it doesn't compare with previous bills because the rate schedule changed this year.

"You're opening up a can of worms when you start comparing them to previous months because we're on a time of use rate schedule," he said. "That means that during the summertime, during specific times of the day, we spend more on energy than we might do for the wintertime. It's more expensive in the summertime during the peak times than it is in the wintertime during your peak times, so your summer bills are going to be higher.

"July of last year we weren't on the time of use rate, so we changed rate schedules. We just started this FY (fiscal year) on the new time of use rate schedule."

Redstone officials hope the $4 million bill will serve as an incentive to conserve energy.

"That's a bunch of money," Smith said. "But this time of use rate schedule is conducive to energy savings. It incentivizes us to save because of the higher rates during those specific time periods.

It incentivizes us to save during those (peak) times, and to do load shifting. That means if you're consuming energy during the peak periods -- 1 to 7 p.m. (in the summer) -- if you can shift the task to a time period that's off of that peak, then we can save demand charges on that bill."
Last year's total utility cost for Redstone Arsenal amounted to about $53 million. That fiscal 2010 price tag included $29.7 million for electricity, $2.7 million for gas, $17.4 million for steam, and accompanying expenses for water and sewage.

The bills are paid out of the Garrison budget from the Installation Management Command, but ultimately of course by the taxpayers. Each month, the Tennessee Valley Authority charges for power. And the Defense Energy Supply Center manages a contract for Redstone with BP, or British Petroleum, for natural gas. Redstone buys steam from Huntsville's Solid Waste Disposal Authority.

The utility cost can fluctuate from year to year because of two factors: how much energy is consumed, and the price of the commodity. Both attributed to last year's more than $6 million reduction from 2009.

"We saved a good bit on our steam through a project we did," said Smith, whose office is in the Garrison's Directorate of Public Works. "But I think the price fluctuated too somewhat on electricity."

Redstone's energy conservation goal is to reduce consumption 3 percent annually, based on a baseline year 2003. That's mandated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Independent Security Act of 2007.

But the reasoning for energy conservation goes beyond federal statutes and executive orders.

"Just being good stewards with the resources we have available to us, by saving the energy when we don't need it," Smith said. "When you don't need it, turn it off. If you don't need it full speed, slow it down."

Redstone's strategy includes trying to implement its energy conservation contracts through TVA. "We're doing lighting retrofits, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) improvements, building envelope improvements (insulation and windows)," Smith said.

"But the biggest thing that could help us is for the organizations to simply conserve energy when they can."

This means workers should turn off the lights when they leave the office. And they should turn off their computer monitors when not in use; and shut off their computers for the nights and weekends. Turn off peripherals -- such as coffee pots -- when not using them. They can also conserve by using a network printer instead of a desktop printer. Laptop computers usually use less energy than desktop computers.

"This time of the Army facing cuts, we need all the help we can get," Smith said.

Garrison commander Col. John Hamilton explained the reasons for energy conservation's importance to Redstone.

"We've got to be smart about how we spend the taxpayers' resources. Utilities represent a huge percent of our budget," Hamilton said. "We also have a responsibility to preserve the environment as best we can."

Arthur Barnette, an electrical engineer for Chugach, has an old-school perspective of energy conservation. He has worked at Redstone since 1964.

"From time to time, you look at it, you'd like to know: Do we have an energy conservation program or is it an energy conversation program?" Barnette said. "Because sometimes it seems we like to talk about it more than we do it. For an energy conservation program to work you've got to start when you buy new pieces of equipment. It needs to be the most energy efficient available."

He later added: "Instead of saying it starts with purchasing, really energy conservation starts when you're designing it."