SANTA FE, N.M. – The rapid whop, whop, whop of a wind turbine outside the New Mexico National Guard headquarters hints at a new mission for the homefront military: Going green.
Efforts nationally since 2001 to conserve energy and fuel also include a solar array that provides some power for the New Jersey Army National Guard's training center in Wrightstown, and the Ohio Air National Guard's 180th Fighter Wing opening of an alternative energy site in Toledo last September.
"Energy's become one of our top priorities here in the National Guard," said Thomas Gurule, a retired Guard lieutenant colonel who is now its energy manager.
Every building under the military construction program must meet the U.S. Green Building Council's silver rating, said Elvin L. Shields, chief of the design-criteria branch for the Army National Guard's installations division in Washington, D.C.
Two percent of a building's cost will be spent to make sure it meets standards, Shields said. That pays for upgrades on a building's systems — more energy-efficient systems, better windows and doors, and more insulation, he said.
"Now we're saying if we're going to do this, this is what we're going to need, and we're going to pay for it," he said. "Instead of going with lowest cost possible, we're going with the best with our economic situation."
The initiative — sustainable design and development — began in 2001. The Department of Defense also follows the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Efficiency and Security Act of 2007.
One of the first sites greeting visitors to the New Mexico Guard's compound near Santa Fe sees is a slender, 43-foot tall white wind turbine near headquarters. It generates 300 to 400 kilowatts a month, which the state's largest utility, Public Service Company of New Mexico, said is enough for about half the needs of an average home.
The electricity goes into the energy grid and the Guard receives credit on its electric bill. The turbine needs winds of at least 14 mph and can operate in winds up to 200 mph. In its first month, December to January, it operated at about 25 percent efficiency, but Gurule expects that to increase with the spring winds.
Solar tubes — like small round skylights — supply half the lighting needs at one Guard building and a quarter of those needs at two others.
Shields said there's more to a green building than just design.
"You can design the finest facility, but once you turn it over to the users, you have to educate the users. ... You don't have to stand there with the water running while you're brushing your teeth — that's the training," he said.
The New Mexico Guard pushes that with an energy reduction guide that recommends turning off computers, printers, copiers, televisions and other electronics at night to making sure a vehicle's air filter is clean.
At times, Gurule said, "it's really one of those things where you have to go behind folks and turn off lights."
Conservation doesn't end with the buildings. The 15-vehicle commercial fleet uses biofuels and ethanol and the general drives a hybrid electric-gas vehicle.
"It's not so much saving money on the flex fuels. They're more environmentally friendly to consume," said Gurule.
It's saved money as well. The electric bill dropped from $53,988 for October 2007 to $41,944 for October 2008. Total utility costs, including for natural gas, water and refuse, dropped from $96,457 in October 2007 to $70,126 in October 2008.
About 20 percent of states — among them Colorado, Oregon and Washington — had green building standards that Guard units had to follow even before the military began funding such initiatives, Shields said.
The future will be one of innovative projects, he said.
"You're going to see wind power, you're going to see photovoltaics, you're going to see solar power, ground source heat pumps, things like that on all of our buildings," he said.a