How a new type of contract helped one agency save green by going green

Doug Jacobs and Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles on Agency of the Month

A new contracting project from the Department of Energy is helping the National Park Service save thousands of dollars a year in its smallest region by becoming more energy efficient. The project has been so successful, DoE has recognized it with an award.

The National Capital Region of NPS took advantage of DoE’s energy-savings performance contract, bringing on Siemens Government Technologies to help bring their utility costs down by improving efficiency.

“When we entered into this contract, we had the contractor look at all of our energy bills across the entire region and help us determine where we were spending extra money beyond what they would expect in facilities of our size,” Doug Jacobs, deputy associate regional director for Lands, Planning and Design said on week two of Agency of the Month, featuring NPS for the month of August.

NPS presents a unique challenge on this front because, unlike most other agencies, it has minimal facilities, while most of its energy drains come from landscapes and maintenance costs.

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“Managing a national park is like managing a city,” said Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, NPS spokeswoman. “Being a superintendent of a national park is like being a mayor of a town, or a city council: responsible for water and waste water systems, responsible for roads and trails, responsible for housing, you name it.”

Although ESPC contracts are normally used for much larger facilities with more office space, NPS instead bundled together all of its smaller facilities on a single contract. That allows it to pool the savings as well, and use them to implement new projects across all the parks.

It also means that the contract is the largest energy savings performance contract in the Interior Department, which got them noticed.

“We found out earlier this month that we have been awarded the Federal Energy and Water Management award, which is actually a nationwide award that is managed by the DoE,” Jacobs said. “They recognize people that have made significant contributions to water and energy savings, and we were recognized for our innovative approach to contracting.”

In the National Capital Region, which includes Washington, D.C. and parts of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, those water and energy savings came primarily from monuments, memorials and battlefields.

“What they found was that we were using a lot of energy for site lighting, for lighting of monuments and memorials,” Jacobs said. “They found we were using an awful lot of water, particularly with our fountains and irrigation systems.”

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Some of the fixes were relatively easy. After reviewing the region’s 22-page water bill, the contractor found that NPS was actually paying a large portion of the Pentagon’s water bill. Jacobs said the installation of a few meters ensured that NPS was only paying for its own utilities.

Other fixes were more involved, however.

The contractor recommended replacing some of the bulbs that light the monuments at night with more efficient LED bulbs. But the reason NPS hadn’t already made that transition was because the old bulbs had a specific tone that the agency didn’t want to mess with.

“We had been reluctant to go down the path of LEDS for lighting on the Washington monument because in the past, the technology had not been great in terms of the color rendition on LED fixtures,” Jacobs said. “They tended to be very intense lights that were not dimmable. It’s only within the last few years that the technology has improved in such a manner that we can get a much warmer light, that we can really focus the light very directly, that we can reduce the intensity to the level that is required.

NPS decided to test the new LED lights before committing.

“We lit one corner of the monument [with an LED] and kept the other three lit with the traditional lights we had up there,” Jacobs said. “We pulled in members of the commissioner of fine arts to come and take a look at it, and surprisingly none of us could tell which one was the new fixture. “

Now the Washington Monument uses 80 percent less power than it did before, resulting in a savings of $16,000 per year on that monument alone, while still maintaining the familiar tone.

Other projects that came out of this contract include LED lights on the Vietnam Memorial and smart sprinklers on the ellipse south of the White House. The smart sprinklers measure moisture levels in the soil and compare historical weather patterns in order to determine the best time to water the grass for optimal moisture content.

One of the biggest projects NPS is currently working on, however, is the difficulty of figuring out how to install solar panels on historical landmarks. Currently, its experimenting with mounting them on maintenance or office facilities and visitor centers.

“That’s … one of the biggest challenges for us, is, ‘How do we install solar panels on historic buildings or in historic landscapes, where that view, what you see, is part of what we’re protecting?” Anzelmo-Sarles said.