Renewable Energy Project In California Earns Forest Service Wide Recognition

  • By Denise Adamic, Public Affairs Specialist, Regional Office, Pacific Southwest Region
A group of men and women stand on a stage with one holding an award. Two men stand in a dirt field filled with solar panels. A field of solar panels fill the top of a building roof.

After four years of determination and innovation, a team from the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region (Region 5) has received a Federal Energy and Water Management Award for its Southern California Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC) ENABLE Project, which will reduce energy consumption by 80 percent for 63 facilities across the Los Padres and San Bernardino national forests. The Department of Energy award recognizes federal government projects that cut energy waste and promote energy independence, resilience and security.

“This large-scale energy efficiency project supports our conservation-oriented mission to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests. The project saved about 4,899 million BTUs of energy, which equates to saving $225,000 in energy costs annually,” said Regional Forester Randy Moore.

Region 5’s ESPC ENABLE project streamlined procurement for implementing energy conservation measures at nine Forest Service locations across both national forests. Upgrades include lighting, HVAC controls, one-for-one HVAC replacements, and photovoltaic systems.

Innovative aspects of the project include: Net Energy Metering Aggregation (allows for renewable energy generated at one location to offset utility costs at additional facilities under the provision of contiguous property ownership between all locations); partnerships (the team leveraged funds from various levels of the Forest Service and DOE to support the upgrades); and staff integration (the project team included staff from the Los Padres and San Bernardino national forests and the regional office. The team traveled to all proposed sites to build project support and awareness among fellow employees).

In June this ESPC ENABLE project also received a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency award for conserving resources and saving taxpayer money as part of the Federal Green Challenge program.

The economic benefits go beyond cost saving. This project also supports local economies. Preference was given to products manufactured in the U.S., all subcontractors were U.S.-based companies, and four locally-owned business were involved in the implementation process.

And The Benefits Keep Coming

In addition to saving energy, reducing taxpayers’ costs, and supporting local economies, this project helped the environment and employees.

Region 5 required the company implementing the energy upgrades to consider sustainability throughout the project’s life-cycle, from product sources to end-of-life and disposal. As a result of the upgrades, seven of the facilities became net-zero buildings, thus increasing operational resiliency and system reliability. In terms of employee benefits, the new HVAC systems improved temperature balancing across facilities, which increased employee comfort and productivity.

This ESPC ENABLE project is the first in Region 5 and the second agency-wide. Region 5’s success has spurred the Forest Service to launch similar projects across the country. In Oregon and Washington, a Forest Service ESPC ENABLE project will streamline procurement and small, energy efficiency projects across 390 agency sites. That project is expected to reduce electricity and natural gas consumption by 50 percent. In addition, the Forest Service is initiating implementation of another 10 ESPC ENABLE projects nationwide with support from a DOE grant.

Region 5 Has Its Next ESPC ENABLE Project Planned As Well

“Next we’ll focus on an additional five off-grid sites across California. Each project site will receive a mobile solar photovoltaic system to replace diesel and propane generators, plus more efficient lighting,” said Lara Buluç, Region 5 sustainable operations coordinator and project co-lead.

The five sites include: Pine Hills Fire Station (Cleveland NF), Pacific Valley Ranger Station (Los Padres NF), Blackrock Work Center (Sequoia NF), Soda Creek Fire Station (Mendocino NF), and Frenchman Work Center (Plumas NF).

This project is expected to save nearly $143,600 per year in fuel costs, resulting in a payback period of 13.9 years. In addition to cost-savings, benefits will include:

  • Lessons learned for off-grid solutions at remote locations.
  • Projects are prototypes for utilizing an inter-agency work group.
  • Generators account for most of the agency’s fossil fuel use at these locations; finding alternative energy sources reduces dependency on fossil fuels.
  • Generators are prone to breaking down; replacing them increases operational predictability and reduces maintenance costs.
  • Increased knowledge of how to efficiently, economically, and securely operate renewable energy systems at remote locations for increased sustainability and operational flexibility across the agency.

This is Region 5’s third DOE Federal Energy and Water Management Award. In 2013, Region 5 received its first award for installation of energy efficiency measures, including a 302 kW PV system, at the San Dimas Technology and Development Center. The upgrades led to the building becoming the first net-zero energy facility in the country managed by the Department of Agriculture. In 2017, Region 5 received a contracting award for its federal aggregated solar procurement pilot.

More information about DOE’s Federal Energy and Water Management Award is available on-line: