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U.S. Coast Guard Leader Builds Sustainable Foundation: Interview with Captain John Hickey

Hickey EDITOR: We recently toured the Oahu Sand Island Base where you’ve been Base Commander until recently. We were pretty impressed with the savings you’ve been able to accomplish. What got you started? CAPTAIN HICKEY: I started my Command there in 2007. There were already several mandates in place focused on sustainability – the Energy Policy Act (2005), Executive Order 13423, and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. At the same time the base had seen some action with an Energy Savings Performance Contract, but it left a lot to be done. I felt it was important as the Commanding Officer of the biggest facility in the Pacific to get something going in-house.

And what was that “something?” We enrolled in Hawaiian Electric Company's Demand Response Program "Energy Scout". (Demand Response Programs, or load control programs are not unique to Hawaii; Captain Hickey has enrolled other CG facilities in such programs in California, Baltimore,  Boston, New Jersey, and Virginia.) With the connected load of our ships, we had more than 1 megawatt of curtailable load that we could disconnect if the grid was in trouble. Our incentive for this participation was over $100,000 a year. We used this money to train our crews in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Then we let them go to work looking for ways for the base to save energy.

IslandBaseTour-YKwbike What did you find?We found lots of opportunities. For example, by de-lamping and re-lamping exterior fixtures, we reduced our consumption for exterior lighting by 80%. We looked for less obvious things to do as well. We found that in some of our vending machines we were spending $4 on energy for every soda we sold! Easy enough, we got rid of the vending machines. We also began promoting commuting by bike (see bike rack in photo), that helps with reducing our carbon footprint, as well as with the weight issue. Furthermore, we improved our HVAC controls and installed several solar domestic hot water systems.

So you were able to really leverage that $100,000 HECO Incentive.Yes, we needed to be creative with our resources, and we certainly made a lot of headway with the HECO money. We also used interns from the University of Hawaii for some of our analysis. One resource we’ve been taking advantage across the board are the National Laboratories. NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory), for example, is doing some high performance building training and energy auditing for us; PNNL (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory , is helping us with a REM and coordinating with BPA (Bonneville Power Authority); LBL (Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory) is helping us with our data centers; Oak Ridge National Lab is assisting with compressed air systems, and so forth.

Shore ops What other opportunities for sustainability have you explored?Well I got my start in the Northeast when the Coast Guard “solar-ized” all our offshore lighthouses. And I’m happy to report that the crew in Hawaii is continuing to take leadership in this regard. Now that I’m stationed in Seattle, I’m focused on how we can maximize sustainability in our projects in the Northwest. As you know, we’re pursuing LEED for Existing Buildings Certification on the U.S. Coast Guard’s Seattle Shore Ops building (see photo). That’s an interesting project, because we have a complicated situation there, both in terms of hours of operation and HVAC equipment, making it a challenge to get the crew up to speed. Turnover is an issue, too. We had someone trained and then they were mobilized to Afghanistan. Frankly, my preference is to use passive, less complicated designs as much as possible; it will make training easier, and won’t matter so much if we have turnover.

What do you think of LEED EB?Actually I like using LEED EB, because it’s a way to get everyone on board. For me, it isn’t just about new construction of green buildings or maintenance of an existing building. It’s about general operations too – for example, environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP), solid waste management, alternative transportation. To use a maritime term, LEED EB makes it an “all hands on deck” situation. LEED EB isn’t difficult; we just have to do it.

What’s next?We’re working on a few things. There’s a pilot program for our training campus in Petaluma starting up later this year that’s going to help us transition from individual buildings to volume LEED-EB certification. I’m very interested in a “fence to fence” approach. And with new construction, we need to focus on getting as many energy points we can get. A LEED Silver rating is the goal, but in some projects there hasn’t been adequate attention to how it’s achieved. We’ll be looking at improving our RFP process so we get what we need.

Are you optimistic?I believe that a lot of our people want to take a sustainable approach; the Coast Guard attracts people who want to do the right thing, and marine environmental protection is a core mission for our organization. We just need to provide the right leadership, opportunity, and power to take the action – and a little creative support, like we did with the HECO incentive and UH Interns. I actually think the bar is set a bit low. We can do this, and it’s more than a nice thing to do. It’s urgent. Our national security depends on energy efficiency and a solid economic base. Sustainability will get us there.

Captain John Hickey, PE is an officer in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Coast Guard, recently transferred from the Oahu Sand Island Base to Seattle. Kelly Kirkland of O’Brien & Companyis managing the LEED-EB: O&M certification of the Shore Operations building in partnership with ECH Architectureand USCG Energy Manager Bob Mallahan.

Did you enjoy this article?  You might also like these Building Capacity Blog articles:
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