DOE Northeast Region Launches FY 2002 ALERT Activities

June 1, 2002

On February 25, 2002, the kick off of FEMP's Assessment of Load and Energy Reduction Techniques (ALERT) activities began in the Northeast Region with a 3-day training session conducted by the staff of DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The classroom and hands-on training were held at the Department of Transportation's John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Participants included staff from DOE's Northeast and Philadelphia Regional Offices, DOE's National Laboratories, local electric utilities, energy efficiency specialists, and the Volpe Center.

ALERT activities began as a response to California's energy crisis of 2001, when electricity supply problems resulted in blackouts and price spikes during peak demand hours. Twenty-five Federal facilities were assessed across the State. According to the FY 2001 ALERT Program Report, the most common recommendations to reduce demand and energy usage focused on the following areas:

  • lighting (32 percent),
  • operations and maintenance (24 percent), and
  • controls (19 percent).

A photo of the Department of Transportation's Volpe Center.

An ALERT team recently assessed the Department of Transportation's Volpe Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The primarily low- or no-cost measures identified were estimated to produce average demand savings of 9.2 percent and annual cost savings averaging 10.4 percent.

Following the success of the California emergency response effort, ALERT is now a nationwide effort seeking load and consumption savings, and advising Federal facility managers about resource availability to meet more capital-intensive energy efficiency needs.

ALERT relies primarily on four factors for success:

  • records of facility energy use,
  • observation of building systems in operation by small teams skilled especially in HVAC and energy management systems,
  • knowledge and skills of on-site facility managers and staff about their facility, and
  • facility managers and staff committed to making change.

Training and Assessment at the Volpe Center

Following a day-long program in which ALERT goals, strategies, and procedures were detailed, the ALERT team assessed the Volpe Center for the program's hands-on training exercise. ALERT team members and trainees, including the Volpe Center's energy manager and several Volpe staff, spent 2 days observing an assessment of the building as well as hearing a presentation of the findings.

The Volpe Center is an office complex of 385,000 square feet, consisting of a 13-story office tower and several attached buildings. Built in the late-1960s, Volpe is a national research center for the Department of Transportation. The facility's control and mechanical systems have been periodically updated to accommodate the addition of computer centers and other changes in interior space. An energy services contractor maintains the control systems.

Volpe is typical of many "middle aged" buildings. Improvements to the facility's heating and cooling equipment and distribution systems and controls have been mainly incremental, without a complete system re-design. A long-range facility planning project is currently under way with PNNL. The facility manager and staff are focused on operational reliability and occupant comfort, health, and safety. In 1997, Volpe implemented the first energy savings performance contract at a Department of Transportation facility. Energy User News recognized the project, which was nominated by the DOE Boston Regional Office, with their "Best Retrofit" Award in 2000.

At Volpe, the ALERT team found equipment and behavioral opportunities including:

  • an energy management system requiring adjustment to better match heating and cooling to building occupancy hours,

  • pneumatic lines requiring repair,
  • papers in offices covering air vents and impeding building comfort control, and
  • a defective pressure gauge requiring repair.

At the presentation of findings and recommendations, Volpe staff had the opportunity to comment on all aspects of the assessment. The team subsequently provided a written report detailing the process, findings, and recommendations.

ALERT Audits Under Way

Since the training, ALERT teams have visited five other facilities in New England and New York; several more assessments are scheduled in the coming months. Sites were selected through an analysis of total electric demand, energy use, and energy intensities of Federal facilities in the New York-New England Region. These facility analyses were developed in a 2-year effort to profile regional Federal facilities including the General Services Administration, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Veteran Affairs, and National Park Service facilities.

The first three ALERT assessments included two Naval facilities and a GSA Federal Courthouse. Managers at each of these Federal facilities had taken a number of actions over the past several years to increase energy efficiency including initiating SAVEnergy audits (and implementing some energy efficiency measures), working with local gas and electric utilities to implement energy efficiency improvements, and implementing aggressive fuel and electricity purchase programs.

The ALERT teams found a variety of opportunities. One facility consisting of multiple buildings had multiple older-generation energy management systems and was not getting significant benefit from them. The ALERT team recommend-ed searching for a comprehensive solution rather than trying to maintain the existing, isolated, and outdated systems.

One Federal facility had implemented a number of low-cost recommendations from a SAVEnergy audit with excellent payback, but did not have resources to undertake more substantial measures. The ALERT team was able to assist the facility with documenting the additional measures allowing facility managers to apply for funding to implement some of the more substantial energy efficiency measures.

A Federal facility developing a new energy management system experienced difficulties procuring the type of system they needed. The ALERT team was able to provide information about solutions other Federal agencies have developed to address similar situations.

"ALERT teams were able to identify immediate low-cost or no-cost opportunities for each Federal facility assessed thus far," said Paul King of DOE's Boston Regional Office. He added, "the ALERT team visits presented an opportunity to focus on energy issues at the highest facility management levels. This focus also served to renew commitments to actively managing energy use and recognizing the importance of effective energy management."

For more information about ALERT team activities in the New York-New England Region, please contact Paul King of DOE's Boston Regional Office at 617-565-9712 or For more information on the ALERT Program, please contact Ab Ream at 202-586-7230 or