FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii -- Every morning, Col. Howard Killian makes his way past the "Pineapple Pentagon," three Army buildings that got their name when they were built in 1944, in just under 50 days, as a command center for the planned invasion of Japan.
Today, the Army still runs its Pacific operations from Fort Shafter. And now that 60 years have passed, most of the buildings -- including Killian's -- have become leaky, creaky energy gobblers.
So it's no surprise that when he adds up the Army's annual electric bill, it gets to $30 million.
That's thin compared to last year, Killian says. Surging oil prices in 2008 left him paying $45 million to bring power to Fort Shafter's 20,000-plus residents.
Now, in his fifth year on the Hawaii base, the colonel has these bills in his sights. He has led a campaign to trim energy spending by "greening" the Army's old buildings and making new units energy efficient. Above all, he wants to shake up his Army colleagues with this warning: When you live on an oil-dependent island, power doesn't come for free.
The first step, he says, is showing people how much energy they use. When he first arrived in Hawaii in 2004, he couldn't find water or power meters attached to any Army buildings. The Army "never built anything with a meter before 1998," Killian said. "For all intents and purposes, electricity was always free to the consumer."
That will be changing soon. By this fall, Killian said, all Army family housing in Hawaii will have advanced power meters -- devices that send data to the electric company, but can also control the building's power use to boost its efficiency.
The colonel is also counting on a new strategy from Hawaii's main utility, Hawaiian Electric Co. Under "time-of-use" billing, Army base residents can choose to leave appliances idle around midday, when electricity prices are high and power plants are at full bore.
Building a 'cost culture' where there once were no meters
After they start getting household energy bills, he suggests, residents will buy into a "cost culture" of saving energy -- something the Army hasn't tried before. If it works, Killian hopes to sweeten the pot by offering a cash rebate to those who use 10 percent less energy than the base average, and docking those who use more.
It's a fortunate time for energy soothsayers. The Army is undertaking a major building effort in Hawaii, putting up 5,200 new homes and refitting 2,300 old ones.
Under an Army directive, all new buildings will have ratings of at least LEED Silver under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. All appliances, except for clothes washers and dryers, must be Energy Star-certified, and all incandescent light bulbs are being switched out for compact fluorescent lights.
And wherever a house gets good sun -- nearly everywhere in balmy Hawaii -- it gets a solar water heater. With warm temperatures year-round, Killian said, residents don't often heat their homes, but warming water with sunlight can lop off one-third of a household energy bill. "The fact that we don't have to heat is enormous," he said.
Paying the developers out of energy savings
Observers say that in Hawaii, the Army has dodged the economic hump that keeps many from investing in green buildings.
It hasn't dodged the bill: Actus Lend-Lease, the private developer building the Army's new homes in Hawaii, says the projects will cost $2.3 billion.
Killian said he has no specific funding for energy projects. But Actus hedges the cost by offering the Army 50-year leases -- contracts that are long enough to reap the cash savings from their high-efficiency buildings.
For example, a set of newly minted homes for soldiers with the rank of staff sergeant and higher features a thin solar film peeled onto each house's garage roof. The homes provide the base with about 7 megawatts of power, saving roughly a million dollars a year.
Projects such as these have drawn the envy of Hawaiian policymakers, who are hoping to pass an ambitious clean-energy bill through the Legislature this year. They say it will be tough to implement a plan as rapidly as in the military, where rank outweighs checks and balances.
Killian sees their point. "We defended democracy, but we are not one," he said.