Enabling Net Zero at Fort Bliss
Through the development of a thorough Environmental Impact Statement, leadership at Fort Bliss has been able to gain an all-round perspective of the impacts of proposed actions in the installation’s pursuit of net zero energy, water and waste.
By Timothy Canan, M.SAME, and David Plakorus, M.SAME
For the U.S. Army, integrating sustainability into operations is critical to managing available resources, mitigating risk, controlling costs and improving quality of life for soldiers and local communities.
There is good reason for the Army to embrace a net zero strategy. Lower energy costs create savings that can be put to other mission-critical priorities. Sustainable energy development reduces reliance on outside energy and water providers. A net zero strategy also satisfies mandates to lower the nation’s energy consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
By some estimates, the Department of Defense accounts for 1 percent of U.S. energy consumption and 80 percent of the federal government’s use. Reports also show that while potable water consumption at defense facilities has decreased since 2008, usage still topped 90-billion-gal in FY2013. The U.S. Army alone consumes 40 percent of this total.
The Army has made a massive effort to embed sustainability into its culture—integrating net zero thinking into planning, construction and operations. This has included piloting and implementing new solutions to reduce energy and water demands. As part of these efforts, in 2011, the Army selected installations to test a net zero strategy. While most installations were designated as net zero in either energy, water or solid waste, Fort Bliss, a 1.12 million-acre post straddling Texas and New Mexico, aims to achieve net zero in all three components by 2020.
Capitalizing on previous Army initiatives and studies, Louis Berger completed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) aimed at helping Fort Bliss evaluate net zero energy, water and solid waste initiatives.
The development of the Fort Bliss EIS encountered hurdles, including competing Army policies and occasional public objections. Still, overcoming the challenges ultimately made the report stronger by accommodating the needs of impacted parties and positioning the installation as a prime example of adaptability and resilience.
UNDERSTANDING NET ZERO
The Army’s net zero strategy integrates evolving best practices to manage energy, water and waste at installations. Net zero for energy means that an installation produces as much energy on-site during a year as it requires. A net zero water installation limits consumption of fresh water resources and returns water to the same watershed from which it is sourced, thereby maintaining nearby groundwater and surface water resources. A net zero waste installation reduces, reuses and recovers waste with zero landfill requirements. The Army’s approach has five interrelated steps: reduction; repurposing; recycling and composting; energy recovery; and disposal.
As a whole, the Army derives less than 2.1 percent of its energy from renewable sources, and was required to more than triple the amount of its renewable electricity by 2013 to meet the requirements of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Fort Bliss previously derived less than 5 percent of its energy from renewable sources—though this was still more than twice the Army average. Additionally, the installation recycled just 19 percent of solid waste in FY2009. In 2011, Fort Bliss used 2.16-billion-gal of potable water and 320-million-gal of non-potable fresh water to irrigate its two golf courses (despite overdrawn aquifers in the drought-prone region).
LISTENING TO THE COMMUNITY
Three public engagement meetings were held in 2012 during the EIS preparation to identify concerns related to local resource constraints and possible solutions. After the draft EIS was made available for public review, the Army held additional meetings in 2013 to discuss proposed actions, alternatives and anticipated impacts.
Significant public objection to the potential site of a waste-to-energy plant resulted in its disqualification as an actionable solution to achieve net zero. This reversal demonstrated sensitivity to public opinion that continued throughout the process.
ANALYZING RENEWABLE TECHNOLOGIES
The Fort Bliss EIS outlines many possible energy conservation and reuse approaches. The installation conducted a rigorous review of technologies and installation sites available for net zero initiatives based on mission compatibility and geophysical, cultural and environmental factors.
General conservation. Energy saving awareness campaigns were proposed, as well as water and grid metering, efficient building renovation, technology upgrades, low-impact developments, using permeable surfaces, and recycling and repurposing. A Net Zero Communities Program would employ designs and measures in military housing to conserve energy and water. Quick-to-implement projects were included, comprising small-scale wind turbines and solar panels on new buildings and carports.
Water reclamation. The report looked at how treated and reclaimed wastewater could be routed through “purple pipelines” and put to secondary use for landscaping, cleaning tactical vehicles, or in central cooling towers. Fort Bliss could produce an estimated 375-million-gal of reclaimed water annually.
Waste-to-energy. Technologies analyzed in the report included an incinerator to mass burn solid waste (which would reduce the amount ending up in landfills), gasification, anaerobic digestion, fermentation and pyrolysis. Environmental analysis would be required prior to implementation of such technologies. Additionally, a waste-to-energy plant was proposed, but ultimately rejected.
Geothermal energy. A geothermal resource that could be built and operated to produce energy from hot water below the earth’s surface also was put forth in the report (though further study is necessary). Both flash steam and binary power plants also were examined.
Solar power. Fort Bliss would develop a 50-MW dry-cooled, concentrating solar power parabolic trough facility on 300-acres of land in a training area.
Future technologies. Other renewable energy measures considered for Fort Bliss included large-scale wind, solar photovoltaic facilities and using biomass. Such projects would have to meet appropriate screening criteria presented in the EIS.
A number of smaller-scale actions did commence in 2014. These included the use of energy saving awareness campaigns, efficient building renovation, technology upgrades, low-impact developments, using permeable surfaces, and recycling and repurposing as well as some small-scale wind turbines and solar panels on new buildings and carports.
BUILDING CLIMATE RESILIENCE
Net zero practices can make military installations more climate resilient. While resilience can be implemented on a facility-only basis, these practices can have a broader regional application so that costs and benefits of a technology (solar power for instance) are distributed across the facility, community and region.
Another advantage of a net zero strategy is that it can be built into a region’s mutual redundancy, whereby the facility and system can operate independently but maintain connectivity with surrounding infrastructure and power critical facilities. Integrating facility resilience with regional resiliency can ensure that regional infrastructure will continue functioning during extreme weather events. Host communities may be more receptive to net zero measures if they directly benefit through more resilient regional infrastructure systems.
The development of the Fort Bliss EIS encountered hurdles, including competing Army policies and occasional public objections. Still, overcoming the challenges ultimately made the report stronger by accommodating the needs of impacted parties and positioning the installation as a prime example of adaptability and resilience. Moreover, successful implementation of the net zero strategy will lay the foundation for future integration with climate resiliency initiatives, which have become a driving force for facility development, operations and maintenance.
Through the completion of the EIS, associated consultations with state and federal agencies, and most importantly, through public meetings and comments, Fort Bliss has been able to gain an all-round perspective of the impact to the environment of its proposed net zero actions.
With this intelligence, the base can adjust the means to its long-term sustainability goals and protect valued resources at a time when resources are becoming increasingly scarce, with the goal of securing its place in a net zero future.
Vicki Hamilton, Brian Knight, John Kipp, Ph.D., John Barrera, Dennis Wilke and BJ Tomlinson, Fort Bliss, and Pamela Klinger, Army Environmental Command, contributed to the development of the Fort Bliss Environmental Impact Statement.