Sustainable Fort Carson

Fort Carson 2007 2 MW solar array built on reclaimed landfill site

While Mary Barber, Director of Sustainable Fort Carson, is well known as a leader in the Colorado Springs Sustainability community, I did not really know what to expect on the tour of Fort Carson she arranged for us.  What I found was a program more than a decade old with a scale and breadth beyond what I could have imagined.

Fort Carson, located on the southwest side of Colorado Springs can be considered one of the ten largest cities in the state in its own right.  It is a sprawling 137,000 acres with 26,000 active duty military personnel, 42,000 family members, 6,300 civilian employees and provides services to 47,000 local retirees.  The base has had a sustainability program since 2002 covering energy, water, transportation, waste and air quality.  In 2011 Fort Carson was selected as one of 20 pilot sites in the army for Net Zero energy, water and waste which has significantly accelerated the sustainability goals.

Building energy has been improved with deep energy retrofits largely done under performance contracts.  Expansion has allowed Fort Carson to make a significant upgrade to building performance with efficient, new construction.  They now have 77 buildings that are LEED silver, gold or platinum certified.  Ground source heat pumps are used in a number of the new buildings, but the technology was not found to be cost effective for retrofit.  They have centralized monitoring for many of the buildings where they can identify problems and potential savings on-going.

Fort Carson has a total of 4.7 MW of solar PV installed over 10 separate sites.  An early Fort Carson 2 MW solar array, built in 2007 used reclaimed land previously used as a land fill.

As solar PV technology and Fort Carson’s experience have advanced, they are moving to a consolidated site for future installations.  It provides for lower installation costs and better maintainability.  This picture shows a close-up of the currently installed consolidated PV superimposed on the 86 acres of expansion potential.

It is clear that Mary Barber along with Vince Guthrie, DPW Utility Program Manager and Scott Clark, DPW Energy Program Coordination have a lot of practical experience and a willingness to share it.  All the projects have not be resounding successes.  They constructed a pilot micro-grid.  It ties together several critical facilities, their backup generators (allowing these to be shared), a 2 MW solar array and bidirectional charging of a small EV truck fleet.  The bidirectional operation of the EVs has had a number of issues.  Another hard problem Fort Carson has yet to solve is transportation.  Given the sprawling nature of the site, personnel schedules and human factors, they still have a large percentage of single occupant vehicles on the base.

When asked what CRES can do to the help, Vince answered without hesitation that keeping net-metering alive and well in Colorado is hugely important to their success.  They receive all their off-base power from Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) who are very conservative and have only a 10% RE requirement under the current state RPS given their municipal nature.  If IOUs start rolling back net-metering, CSU will likely follow.

More details on Sustainable Fort Carson can be found on the web in “Fort Carson Sustainability Journey”.  The more technically minded CRES members might find the 2012 NREL report “Targeting Net Zero Energy at Fort Carson: Assessment and Recommendations” an interesting read.

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