Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Southwest Harbor, Maine

UPDATE: The 2nd paragraph under “Learning from the Environment” section has been change to correct the amount of the College of the Atlantic grant from $4,483 to $48,000.

Coast Guard Sector Field Office Southwest Harbor, Maine, a sub-unit of Sector Northern New England, has made its mark as a Coast Guard leader in environmental innovation. In this guest post, Kevin LeClair, Southwest Harbor’s housing officer, talks about some of the innovative “green” projects that are expanding horizons in the ways they conserve energy.

Coast Guard housing duplex

On the roof of a Coast Guard housing duplex an array of photovoltaic panels is installed, which supplement the home’s electric needs. Over the entry to the duplex, 60 cylindrical “solar thermal” tubes capture the sun's radiant energy with a proprietary heating solution, which heats up to 80 gallons of circulating water a day to augment the domestic hot water produced by a pellet boiler. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Post Written by Kevin LeClair, housing officer, Sector Field Office Southwest Harbor

In early 2009, a team of concerned Coast Guard men and women set out on a “going green” journey after we realized the growing consumption of electricity and fuel oil throughout Sector Field Office Southwest Harbor’s housing areas. We set out to identify solutions to reduce energy consumption and use “greener-cleaner” sustainable sources of energy like solar, wind, wood and water.

tidal generator

Ocean Renewable Power Company’s prototype tidal generator unit uses large tidal ranges to supply power to Coast Guard Station Eastport. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

While these solutions are not necessarily new, they would be a “first” for the Coast Guard.

Dedicated, committed and excited about “going green,” the team collaborated to do most of the planning themselves. We are pioneering tidal energy to harness the benefits of the 19 feet or greater tidal ranges in the vicinity of Station Eastport and Cobscook Bay. Other solutions, like wind turbines and wood pellet burners, involved inspection of current mechanical and electrical systems, energy audits, compilation of data, knowledge of codes and regulations and relentless product research to identify sustainable energy sources indigenous to the local area.

Furthering cost savings, we physically installed many of the renewable energy and conservation initiatives with the exception of systems requiring certifications and or contracted research and development.

wind turbine

A “Skystream” residential wind turbine, elevated on a 70-foot guyed-wire pole, supplements the daily electricity needs of a Coast Guard Southwest Harbor housing duplex. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The initial project that really got the ball rolling was Electronic Support Detachment Southwest Harbor’s installation of a prototype wind turbine. The turbine not only funneled electricity through an inverter to power computers throughout the base but also charged batteries that provided power for multiple computers during the frequent winter season power outages plaguing the area.

A “green” home

Over the course of two years, the team completely revamped a housing duplex, eliminating its dependence on fossil fuels. We installed the Coast Guard’s first wood pellet-solar broiler, a wind turbine, solar thermal panels, a photovoltaic panel, an Internet protocol thermostat, automatic meter reading and converted fluorescent light fixtures to light-emitting diodes.

As of April 8, the photovoltaic panel and wind turbine have produced a total 5 MW/hr and the wood pellet-solar broiler has generated 201.294 MMBtu reducing our carbon footprint by 19.5 tons of CO2.

Let me put these numbers in terms a bill payer can understand. In sum total, the photovoltaic panels and wind turbine installed in the Southwest Harbor housing duplex produce enough renewable energy to account for 80 percent of the consumption needs of an average Maine home. Additionally, using wood pellets and the sun for heating has reduced our costs by about 50 percent – not to mention the fact that wood pellets are carbon neutral and virtually pollutant free.

Based on the average Maine home, the combined electricity and heating cost savings is $3,400 per year, per home!

bio-solar pellet boiler

A bio-solar pellet boiler integrates solar thermal tubes and wood-pellet burner into a boiler system, which provides all the domestic hot water and heat for the entire Southwest Harbor duplex at 50 percent of the cost of fuel oil. U.S. Coast Guard illustration.

Learning from the environment

Beyond retrofitting the housing duplex, the team came up with one project that proved the feasibility of using tidal power. They worked with Ocean Renewable Power Company to install a tidal generator at Coast Guard Station Eastport. During a two-month trial period, the generator supplied over 191 kWh in increments to the station’s 41-foot utility boat. The trial was the federal government’s first ever successful implementation of clean energy derived from a tidal generator.

At the same time these projects help the Coast Guard save money and reduce its carbon footprint, everyone involved has received invaluable experience and educational benefits. In fact, last spring, Anna Demeo brought her physics and engineering students from the College of the Atlantic to tour the renewable housing project in Southwest Harbor. Impressed and inspired by what was learned there, Demeo applied for and received a $48,000 renewable energy demonstration grant for the college’s Beech Hill Farm.

Although these projects have produced significant results, we have only scratched the surface of green possibilities. We continue to challenge ourselves – tweaking the systems to increase benefits, educating each other and the public on the operation and maintenance of the new systems, quantifying performance and efficiency, assessing the return on investment and evaluating the standardization of the best systems across the Coast Guard.

The team continues to be inspired by the possibilities and thanks the Coast Guard’s Innovation Council and the Coast Guard Research and Development Center for their support in these initiatives. The reward of being good stewards of our Coast Guard and the Earth recharges us with the renewable energy to stay on course! Stay tuned, there’s a lot more planned!

In following the Coast Guard’s environmental stewardship commitment, these initiatives conform with a multitude of federal energy mandates including Executive Order 13514, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007; Executive Order 13423, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the National Energy Conservation Policy Act.

To read more about Southwest Harbor’s innovative projects, click here.

College of the Atlantic students

Click on the image to watch a video of College of the Atlantic students observing the installed renewable energy sources at Sector Field Office Southwest Harbor April 21, 2010. The students are studying the physics and mathematics of sustainable energy. U.S. Coast Guard video by Petty Officer 2nd Class Etta Smith.

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