Updating the Army: Retrofitting Energy and Water Systems at the Tobyhanna Depot

tobyhannaThe U.S. Army facility that Honeywell is retrofitting near Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, traces it roots back more than a century. While it is virtually impossible that any energy or water systems – or even the buildings themselves – that were there at the start are in use, the base does still rely in part on Word War II-era infrastructure.

The U.S. Tobyhanna Army Depot – which is in Coolbaugh Township, Monroe County – soon will undergo an ambitious retrofit. The $29 million, 23-year contract was awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Engineering and Support Center, which is located in Huntsville, AL. The goal is to lower energy consumption by more than 20 percent and water consumption by more than 8 percent. The project, according to the press release, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 9,500 metric tons annually.

The Tobyhanna campus is important. It is the Department of Defense’s largest full service electronics maintenance facility, according to Honeywell, which is spearheading an ambitious upgrade.

This will go far beyond mere tweaks. The Tobyhanna depot, like many other military installations, has systems that are long out of date. “To a large degree they are nursing along systems put in place decades and decades ago,” said Honeywell Building Solutions’ Senior Business Consultant John Bethea. “Within current budget environment it is very difficult for them to get capital that they need to modernize infrastructure, whether heating, cooling lighting or infrastructure…Even good ideas with good ROI go unrealized.”

The challenge was the lack of money. “Making due” – minimal investment when absolutely necessary — can only last so long when systems are aging and the nation’s security is at stake. Even when viable, that approach took a hit from the mechanism that emerged from a budget standoff between the Obama Administration and Congress three years ago. The approach — called sequestration — mandates automatic cuts to social and military programs when a budget deal is not reached. It has led to sharp reductions to spending for both.

A third driver came from the administration. Presidential Executive Order 13693, which was announced on March 19 of last year, requires federal facilities to reduce energy consumption by 2.5 percent and water consumption by 2 percent by 2025.

The aging infrastructure, inhospitable financial terrain and administration mandate helped convince the military and its vendors that creativity was needed. The solution to the challenge is energy savings performance contracts (ESPC), which allow work to be undertaken without upfront investments. Instead, vendors and contractors are compensated over time by the energy savings their work facilitates.

Many facilities being upgraded – including Tobyhanna – have missions that directly impact battlefield capabilities. “The army is going after a lot of industrial sites where energy intensity is highest,” said Kevin Madden, the Vice President and General Manager for Honeywell Energy Services Group. “These sites are mission-critical and need higher reliability.”

A tremendous amount of work will be done at Tobyhanna. It won’t, however, focus on deep infrastructure tasks such as structurally changing the buildings. Bethea said that precision electronics and avionics capabilities will be upgraded and steam heating will be replaced with natural gas systems. Chilled water cooling systems will be installed. The infrastructure will be sub-metered, which will enable deep monitoring and controlled.

The goals will be modernization of the systems themselves and the ability to track, monitor and adjust their use. “We are implementing significant energy monitoring and control systems,” Bethea said. “We are giving them the capability to monitor and control temperature, humidity, lighting– basically the total environment. They are going to have centralized command and control capability for environmental conditions.”

Bethea added that upgrades will be made to water systems. These will include the sand blasting ventilation booths – which are used to remove old paint from equipment that can be reused – more familiar uses, such as lavoratories.

The military’s mission is vital, of course. However, it is not immune to changes – in the economy, technology and how warfare. ESPCs are a key enabler as the Department of Defense strives to keep up to date – and within its budget.

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