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Conserving energy at Joint Base San Antonio

By Steve Elliott | FSH News Leader | June 23, 2011

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas — Getting greener at work isn't about buying more potted plants for your cubicle, but how Joint Base San Antonio can develop a new consciousness about old habits and a willingness to take on new ones.

After all, most people spend 40 hours or more at their office, so wouldn't it make sense to try out some new energy-saving tricks? Saving energy isn't just about saving the earth; it also can save the government money and it's the responsible thing to do.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, about 30 percent of energy consumed by office buildings is used inefficiently. Additionally, about 17 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from commercial buildings' energy use. The Energy Information Administration estimates that if commercial and industrial buildings improved their energy efficiency by 10 percent, our economy could see yearly savings of nearly $20 billion.

The federal government is the largest energy consumer in the United States and has buildings all across the country, according to the Department of Energy. In a typical year, federal buildings consume nearly 40 percent of all energy used by the government and represent 5 percent of all commercial buildings' energy consumption in the United States.

"We are now in the summer season and temperatures are high. We all want to stay cool," said Anthony Martinez, 502nd Air Base Wing Energy Manager. "Staying cool involves use of air conditioning, which consumes energy. More than 50 percent of JBSA's energy consumption comes from air conditioning.

"Any rise in AC use causes a rise in energy consumption and cost," Mr. Martinez said. "The demands for trying to stay cool therefore translate directly back to consumption and cost. JBSA energy policy states that cooling season temperatures should be between 76 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit."

To allow air conditioning to be more efficient, air vents should be kept clear of papers and office supplies, since it can take up to 25 percent more energy to pump air through blocked vents, notes the eHow Money website. In the spring and summer, open windows and use fans instead of air conditioning and use blinds to keep the sun from heating rooms, the website suggests.

"For every degree of temperature variation there is a 3 percent variation in consumption and cost. Our awareness of temperature settings should include the knowledge of why we have certain set points, which should give us patience in accepting what may seem to be uncomfortable," Mr. Martinez said. "Temperature settings are established within acceptable comfort zones. They are not intended to 'punish' and should not negatively affect productivity."

Along with air conditioning and thermostat controls, there are other measures in consideration of energy usage. Lighting is another big factor in energy consumption, Mr. Martinez said.

"We should replace all our incandescent bulbs with Energy Star-qualified compact fluorescent light bulbs. This can account for up to a 75 percent savings in lighting energy consumption," he said.

"Also, turn off electrical appliances and power strips when not in use. Consider unplugging items with cooling motors and clocks when going on vacation. When not in use, these items are not necessary. Appliances - along with air conditioning - account for 90 percent of the energy used in the (U.S.)."

The Department of Energy (http://www.energy.gov) recommends turning off a computer's monitor if it's not going to be used it in the next 20 minutes or more. If the user is away from the computer for more than two hours, the DOE advises saving energy by switching off the monitor. And while they might be fun or pretty to look at, screen savers don't save energy; they require full power from the monitor and the same amount of energy from the computer as when someone is working away on a spreadsheet.

"Without conservation the cost of energy will go up. We could be paying more next year for the same or less energy consumption," Mr. Martinez stressed. "Energy conservation is a must to lower cost and retain our standards."