By Sam Alvord and Andrea Snyder
Founded in 1876 aboard the schooner Dobbin, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy offers comprehensive education for more than 1,000 cadets each year. However, aging infrastructure on the 87-year-old campus presented energy management challenges to the school’s mission to graduate young men and women “with sound bodies, stout hearts and alert minds.”
To solve these challenges, in 2018, the academy broke ground on a new chapter in energy innovation and readiness—embarking on the largest Utility Energy Services Contract (UESC) awarded within the Department of Homeland Security in order to improve energy efficiency and resilience.
Over the course of 24 months, the campus has experienced property-wide improvements and an energy management makeover, which included removing the landmark smokestack from the central boiler plant that had stood since 1938. The project is the largest infrastructure overhaul for the school in more than 50 years.
MEETING DIVERSE NEEDS
To achieve its target outcomes, the Coast Guard awarded a comprehensive $72.6 million contract in 2017. Consisting of 16 energy conservation measures (ECMs), the contract sought to provide the highest yields of energy reduction and cost savings while focusing on the unique needs of a diverse population of cadets, professors, staff, coaches, and maintainers.
The UESC team worked through a detailed and iterative process to identify infrastructure improvements that would enhance campus resilience and quality of life for roughly 2,000 full- and part-time residents. Together, more than 40 stakeholders had this singular goal in mind. Academy leadership, Coast Guard Headquarters, and the Shore Infrastructure & Logistics Center partnered alongside Eversource Energy, the local utility, and its energy services company, Ameresco, to deliver at least two ECM improvements to every building on campus. The team prioritized long-term operations and maintenance agreements throughout the entire contract scope to serve the academy well into the next 25 years. This built-in sustainment investment will help ensure the focus remains on academic excellence and preparing the next generation of Coast Guard officers.
The Coast Guard Academy is spread across 100-acres on the banks of the Thames River in New London, Conn., leading into Long Island Sound. For many years, it ranked as the third-largest energy consumer within the Coast Guard. During FY2017, directly preceding the UESC award, the academy used 158.2-billion-Btu of energy and 21.2-million-gal of water. The school’s size, coupled with an aging infrastructure, presented constant challenges—but also myriad opportunities for improving energy management. Many potential energy reduction solutions and ideas were considered, some even originating from the cadets.
Ultimately the major ECMs in the contract included boiler plant renewal, chiller plant expansion, a switch from fuel oil to natural gas in multiple locations, HVAC improvements, lighting upgrades, water conservation, and galley and chemistry laboratory hood venting enhancements. Additional upgrades include improved working conditions for boiler plant personnel, who now maintain the station in a soundproof and climate-controlled room adjacent to the three boilers and microturbine.
Resilient technologies—such as combined heat and power, a 1-MW microturbine, and solar photovoltaic installations on the gym, library, and the auditorium rooftops—were incorporated to prepare the academy in the event of a long-term power disruption.
Importantly, the team worked to keep cadet life as routine as possible during the project’s two-year construction process.
AN ACADEMIC FOCUS
Improvements through the UESC go beyond creature comfort and resilience. New chemistry laboratory hoods will expand curriculum opportunities, harden safety protocol, and double cadet capacity.
Remarked Cdr. Joseph Brown, Ph.D., USCG, Associate Professor of Chemistry: “Not only are the staff offices better balanced during the winter heating season, but we are able to double the size of our organic chemistry laboratory—from six to 12 students. Now we can focus on phase two of the lab enhancements. That phase will complete the lab renovation making our layouts ideal for student-centered instruction while affording us the flexibility necessary to tackle the evolving problems facing the Coast Guard in the future. This is all possible because the most complex part of the lab infrastructure update—the hoods—is now complete. The project accelerated our modernization timeline and ensures we remain on par with the top institutions.”
The UESC also ensured engineering cadets will have an opportunity to gain early exposure to a microturbine generator, which is similar to modern equipment found on the Coast Guard’s newest National Security Cutters.
Upgrades will set the stage for the Coast Guard Academy to achieve improved scores on various “green” college rankings, bolstering recruitment efforts for future cadets seeking institutions that have implemented comprehensive environmental stewardship.
Managing the schedule, coordination, and performance of the contract was a challenging endeavor. The UESC impacted every major building (26 in total) and affected everyone in some way—either through a utility outage necessary to commission photovoltaic panels or the microturbine, a road closure to facilitate trenching for natural gas or chill water expansion, or an HVAC interruption to allow for major equipment recapitalization. The work required significant planning, foresight, and coordination between the prime and sub-contractors, public works and engineering staff, and the building occupants to properly execute and manage expectations.
An example of this dedication to minimizing disruption was the rerouting of the natural gas utility line. Originally proposed to bisect the cadet parade field, instead, construction was performed along the academy roadways so that routine military drills would be sustained each Friday.
As a direct result of the UESC, the Coast Guard Academy is now self-reliant and well-prepared for long-term power disruptions. Boiler and chiller plant upgrades along with combined heat and power will provide uninterrupted energy, regardless of length and breadth of local power outages. Cadets will experience continued heating, cooling, and acceptable environmental conditions across campus during extended power disruptions.
Power redundancies will also facilitate prescriptive power restoration plans for facilities engineering and public works personnel, allowing for the sequencing and prioritization of generation and electrical load based on the immediate needs. Introduction of natural gas alleviates former fuel truck logistical concerns, drastically reduces wear and tear on the roadways, and minimizes fuel ordering activities.
INTO THE FUTURE
With construction complete and the dust now settled, operations and maintenance is ramping up. The Coast Guard is already incorporating lessons learned and best practices into repeatable, formalized energy performance contracting internal controls and refining its approach to public-private partnerships.
While most of the renovations and upgrades may have occurred behind the scenes, the largest infrastructure overhaul for the Coast Guard Academy in more than 50 years will have measurable visible impact on campus performance for decades to come.
Sam Alvord is Chief, Office of Energy Management, U.S. Coast Guard; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrea Snyder is Senior Communications Consultant, Verus Resource Management Inc.; email@example.com.
[This article first published in the March-April 2020 issue of The Military Engineer.]