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Solar-powered lights harness Arizona sun for fighter wing

Tech. Sgt. Martin Buelow, a power support systems mechanic with the 162nd Fighter Wing’s Aerospace Ground Equipment shop, sets up a mobile solar flood light near the flightline at Tucson International Airport, Sept. 24. Solar-powered lighting will reduce the wing’s annual energy consumption saving money and the environment. (Air National Guard photo by Maj. Gabe Johnson)

Tech. Sgt. Martin Buelow, a power support systems mechanic with the 162nd Fighter Wing’s Aerospace Ground Equipment shop, sets up a mobile solar flood light near the flightline at Tucson International Airport, Sept. 24. Solar-powered lighting will reduce the wing’s annual energy consumption saving money and the environment. (Air National Guard photo by Maj. Gabe Johnson)

Tech. Sgt. Martin Buelow, a power support systems mechanic with the 162nd Fighter Wing’s Aerospace Ground Equipment shop, sets up a mobile solar flood light near the flightline at Tucson International Airport, Sept. 24. Solar-powered lighting will reduce the wing’s annual energy consumption saving money and the environment. (Air National Guard photo by Maj. Gabe Johnson)

Tech. Sgt. Martin Buelow, a power support systems mechanic with the 162nd Fighter Wing’s Aerospace Ground Equipment shop, sets up a mobile solar flood light near the flightline at Tucson International Airport, Sept. 24. Solar-powered lighting will reduce the wing’s annual energy consumption saving money and the environment. (Air National Guard photo by Maj. Gabe Johnson)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The 162nd Fighter Wing here is on its way to meeting federal goals in the reduction of energy consumption with the receipt of six new solar-powered flood lights.

The wing set up all six trailer-mounted solar lighting systems to replace fuel-burning generator flood lights around the base at Tucson International Airport, Sept. 24.

"This type of unit is fairly new to use on military bases. We now have two heavy-duty and four regular units. The two heavy-duty units are needed at FOD [Foreign Object Damage] stops on base so wing members can see clearly when checking vehicle tires at night for small rocks lodged in the treads," said Cheryl Settle, environmental program specialist and project manager.

"The other four lights will be more mobile and can be used by maintainers and security forces to light any other areas around the base and the flightline." 

Mandated by federal Executive Order 13423, the Air Force and all federal agencies are required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through reduction of energy use by three percent annually through the end of fiscal year 2015, or by 30 percent by the end of fiscal year 2015, relative to the baseline of the agency's energy use in fiscal year 2003.

The 162nd's Aerospace Ground Equipment (AGE) maintainers agree that the lights are more cost and time efficient.

"These lights are great," said Tech. Sgt. Martin Buelow, a power support systems mechanic. "We don't have to refuel them or replace filters. We just set them up once and let them go. We're excited about the switch to solar. It will cut costs on fuel and maintenance man-hours."

"The environmental benefits of switching to solar will enable a reduction in the use of fossil fuels, conserve energy and minimize air pollution. Monetary benefits will be from the reduction of gas use. In fuel alone, the wing will see a savings of more than $37,000 a year," said Settle.

According to estimates and cost analysis from the wing environmental office, fuel use for lighting will be reduced to zero dollars and the eco-friendly lights will have a projected six-year savings of more than $200,000.

"The project will save enough fuel and labor to pay for itself in two years, which is an incredible payback," said Lt. Col. Mark Berge, 162nd environmental manager. "Reducing emissions by eliminating JP-8 [fuel]-powered lights and using a renewable energy source meets a lot of the goals set forth in the executive order."

Some of the additional benefits of using eco-friendly, trailer-mounted solar lights include silent operation, mobility for rapid deployment, automatic unattended operation and minimal maintenance to name a few.

"Moveable solar trailers have so much more flexibility. If we move a FOD stop we are not hindered by a permanently mounted light pole. If we have an emergency we can move these to any location," said Settle.

AGE maintainers and security forces Airmen here once relied solely on Flood Light Model 1Ds (FL-1D) which run on a JP-8-fueled generator. The lights were turned on every night for security and perimeter lighting purposes and operated 12 hours a day, 365 days a year.

On average it took approximately 40 minutes to turn on all six flood lights and they only illuminated from above in two directions. The new system illuminates in four directions and can adjusted to illuminate at a lower levels as well.

"They have an extra set of motion-sensored ballast fluorescents on the ground that turn on when a vehicle approaches. This will ensure lighting for FOD checks is available only when it's needed instead of having the lights constantly running at night," said Settle.

The environmental management office oversees the base recycling program which generates funds for the wing's Qualified Recycling Program (QRP). The solar light project was entirely funded by the QRP.