Coast Guard Station Provincetown green initiatives cut costs and help the environment

Chief Petty Officer Paul Wells, the officer-in-charge for Coast Guard Station Provincetown, Mass., inspects one of the light sensors installed on one of the large street lamps in the station's parking lot. The sensors are just one of the many energy saving improvements undertaken at the station. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Matthew BelsonBy Petty Officer First Class Matthew Belson

When Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Paul Wells took command of Station Provincetown, Mass., in October 2009 one of the first orders he gave to the crew was to “shut the lights off” at night. Wells was determined to reduce the energy consumption and associated costs of the station located at the very tip of Cape Cod in addition to keeping the life saving skills of the crew proficient.

“I had this [energy conservation] idea in my head before I came here,” said Wells, and making sure watch standers at night turned the lights off in unused common areas was a first step.

His next move was to schedule a free energy audit by the Cape Light Compact, an inter-governmental organization for Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, whose missions include promoting local energy efficiency initiatives and green power options for residents, businesses and organizations.

“We went through space by space [of the station],” said Wells about the thoroughness of the energy audit.

The findings from the audit found a number of improvements that could be made inside and outside the buildings that would help to lower energy usage and costs. Better still, Wells said the costs to implement the improvements were covered by grant monies the Cape Light Compact administers.

Inside the main building and the engineering facility motion sensors were installed in rooms including office spaces, hallways, workout room, locker room and bathrooms that turn the light on when someone walks in and turns them off after after a set period of time, usually 15 minutes. Wells was quick to mention that in some spaces some of the lights can also be turned on by clapping (in case someone is in there a little longer). Incandescent light bulbs were replaced with longer lasting and more energy efficient LED ones. There are even sensors on the soda machines that turn them off at night.

In the parking lot light sensors were also fitted to the streetlights.

Stretching out from the station to the rescue boats is a quarter mile-long pier with 36 lights and Wells questioned the necessity of always having all 36 lights on at the same time.

As part of the energy efficiency improvements sensors were fitted to the pier lights and they were linked to a computer program that controls the number of lights to be lit and for how long.

“We still have plenty of light for safety and security,” said Wells.

Additionally, a new electric meter was installed at the station that Wells can monitor on his computer to look for any spikes in energy consumption. Over a 14 month period ending in November of 2010 Wells said the energy efficiency measures had saved about 56,322 kilowatt hours and $9,000.

Water conservation measures have also been implemented at the station such as the installation of new shower heads and faucets. Wells said he would also like to improve the insulation of the buildings to reduce heating costs.

All told the energy efficiency improvements costs, including labor and parts, was about $27,000, all of which was covered by public grant monies administered through the Cape Light Compact, said Wells.

“For such a small unit I think we’re doing pretty good,” added Wells.

Elsewhere across the region energy conservation measures and “green” initiatives are also being undertaken by the Coast Guard, including Sector Southeastern New England, based in Woods Hole, Mass., whose operational area includes Cape Cod and the Islands, and Rhode Island.

Philip Wolf, the environmental protection specialist for the sector, said Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr., has directed the service to reduce its energy costs by 10 to 15 percent.

At the sector, Wolf said many of the same energy efficiency measures undertaken at Station Provincetown are being mirrored by other local units.

“At Woods Hole it’s just on a larger scale,” said Wolf, of the base which is home to several cutters, an aids to navigation team, small boat station as well as a sizable engineering facility for boat maintenance.

Like Station Provincetown, Wolf said an energy audit was conducted for all of the buildings and many of the same energy conservation measures instituted such as replacing light bulbs and installing light sensors.

Recycling is also important at the base were materials such as paper, plastic, cardboard, glass, used aerosol cans, waste oil, anti-freeze and used batteries are collected. The latter is especially important as batteries are replaced on boats and aids to navigation.

“Ten years ago all of these things were going into a landfill,” said Wolf.

To help spread the word through the sector about energy conservation and recycling efforts a volunteer group of Coast Guardsmen and Coast Guard civilian employees (including Wolf) have set up a group called “The Green Team.”

Coast Guard Lieutenant Maureen Olsen is in charge of a group of 10 volunteers that meet every month to discuss ways units and individuals can do things to help the environment. A quarterly electronic newsletter called the “Green Team Bulletin” is sent out with helpful tips people can use in their daily routines.

Olsen said the bulletin includes suggestions like shutting down computers opposed to letting them sleep which still draws power.

Annual beach clean-ups on the Cape are also organized and the group is looking to participate in the “Adopt-a-highway” clean-up program.

“People want to do the right thing,” said Wolf. “They just need the right tools to do it.”

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