Federal: Tinker Air Force Base Drops from #1 Energy Consumer to #5 Through Decentralizing Steam

Photo by Tinker Air Force Base, Facebook


Tinker Air Force Base (AFB) was built in 1941 and named in honor of Oklahoma Native General Clarence L. Tinker. Located outside Oklahoma City in Oklahoma County, the installation is spread across 4,048 acres, has 760 buildings, and is the largest single-site employer in Oklahoma, employing 26,000 military and civilian employees.

As the center for the U.S. military’s air defense efforts, Tinker AFB is home to the Air Force Sustainment Center (AFSC), whose mission entails sustaining weapon system readiness to generate airpower for America. (Air Force Materiel Command, 2012) The largest and most critical organization of the Air Force Sustainment Center is the Oklahoma City Air Logistic Complex (OC-ALC), headquartered at Tinker and considered a tenant of the installation. The U.S. Navy and other Department of Defense missions are also tenants of Tinker AFB.

OC-ALC Aircraft Hanger, Photo by AFCEC Public Affairs. (Dupree, 2017)

Historically, Tinker AFB has been the leading energy consumer in the Air Force. Being number one has been a pain point, and as the largest industrial base, there was a big hill to climb to drop on the leader board. Taking on the hefty assignment was no easy feat, but in 2012 the Commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center (AFSC), Lieutenant General Bruce A. Litchfield, revitalized the importance of energy conservation.

2012: The Push Towards Energy Conservation

In July of 2012, Gen Litchfield was appointed as Commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center (AFSC), Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) at Tinker AFB. The AFSC Commander ensures the Center provides operational planning and execution of the Air Force Supply Chain Management and Depot Maintenance for a wide range of aircraft, engines, missiles, and components in support of the Air Force Materiel Command mission. (U.S. Air Force, 2015)

Shortly after taking on his new role, Lt. Gen. Litchfield brought in Oklahoma’s Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Commerce, and CEO of the base’s utility provider, Oklahoma Gas and Electric, to collaborate on how best to move forward with energy conservation efforts. This initial meeting triggered a ripple effect, and base tenants began to assemble a team of the most qualified individuals to work on this task.

The Challenge: Oklahoma City Air Logistic Complex

The driving factor for the base’s abnormally high energy consumption is the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center. OC-ALC performs programmed depot maintenance on aircraft for the active-duty Air Force, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard, Navy, and foreign allied militaries. Additionally, the complex is responsible for the maintenance, repair, and overhaul of a myriad of Air Force and Navy airborne accessory components. Other programs include developing and sustaining a diverse portfolio of operational flight programs, test program sets, automatic test equipment, and industrial automation software. (Tinker Air Force Base, 2012) The main OC-ALC complex includes 60 buildings and over 10,000 employees; as its mission grows, so does its footprint. Prior to 2014, the complex’s primary source of energy was steam, which was used to heat the facilities in the winter and power various industrial processes.

Between FY2012 and 2015, the annual utility bill averaged $46.2 million for the whole base, OC-ALC made up roughly 67 percent of that, averaging $30.8 million. The complex had three factors driving its high energy consumption: energy-intensive industrial processes, inefficient buildings, and reliance on steam-generated energy. Some of those processes included:

Painting aircraft – Some facilities use 100% fresh air all the time, other facilities have the capability to recirculate some of the air. In all cases, the air is cooled or heated as needed to maintain temperatures around 72 degrees, the temperature requirements do vary slightly depending on the type of paint and which stage of the process is underway. 

Plating operations – Hot tanks are used to refurbish the aircraft, requiring a tremendous amount of energy to heat.

Cleaning jet engines – A chemical process in a heated tank is needed to clean the engine properly, requiring substantial energy inputs. 

Tinker’s Energy Program

In 2009, Tinker commenced its first Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC), a partnership with Honeywell. The ESPC was a relatively small project compared to others they would work on in the future. The efforts of the $11 million ESPC were focused on the Navy’s campus and included steam decentralization powerhouse work, controls upgrades, and energy-efficient lighting systems. 

Following the 2009 ESPC, Tinker aggressively pursued ESPC third-party funded projects. In 2012, under the direction of Gen Litchfield, they transformed their ESPC efforts into a 20-year, $80.6 million project, continuing the partnership with Honeywell. The expected savings were $6.5 million after the first year and $140 million over the contract’s life.  

“One of our top priorities is reducing the size of our energy footprint, not only here at Tinker AFB, but also across the entire Air Force Sustainment Center,” said Gen Litchfield in a 2012 press release. “Pursuit of energy-saving initiatives is a factor in driving down the cost of sustaining weapons systems, which results in more capability per available dollar for our operational Air Force and represents good stewardship of America’s resources. This is a true win-win scenario.”(Air Force Materiel Command, 2012)

Tinker’s energy efforts include a variety of project types such as ESPC, UESC (Utility Energy Service Contract), ESTCP (Environmental Security Technology Certification Program), ERCIP (Energy Resilience and Conservation Investment Program), as well as reviewing facility projects and MILCON (Military Construction) from an energy perspective. These efforts are driven and managed by a diverse group of energy managers. Each is responsible for leading individual objectives within their own units and working together as an installation to achieve the base’s energy goals. 

Steam Decentralization

In a 2011 report, the Defense Technical Information Center provided insight into Tinker’s reliance on steam. Tinker AFB utilized a centralized steam heating system to provide heat to a significant portion of the installation. The system consisted of four CSPs connected to 71 buildings covering more than nine million square feet; these represent approximately 48 percent of the installation’s total building area. Three of the plants (CSP 208, CSP 3001, and CSP 5802) were installed in the 1940s/50s, and the fourth plant, CSP 2212, was installed in 1990 to supplement CSP 3001 during the winter months. (Air Force Materiel Command, 2012)

These plants were more than twenty years old and in dire need of repair. The boilers were not equipped with economizers or systems to control combustion or manage burners, and several boilers had outdated control systems. The initial work to decentralize steam started with the 2009 ESPC, but at a very small scale. The steam plants were a sore thumb on base, and in the 2012 ESPC, Honeywell and Tinker AFB substantially increased the scope of work to create major change.  

Three of the central high-pressure steam plants were shut down, and improvements were planned for the fourth plant. These retrofits resulted in 56 individual buildings receiving high-efficiency, natural-gas fire heating equipment. The impact was immediate. In a 2014 press release, Tinker ESPC Manager Rex Stanford stated, “Our gas usage has dropped significantly already. In fact, when we shut down the first two plants, we got a call from our local gas supplier. They thought one of their meters was having an issue because our usage had dropped so much. It was actually just a straight reduction.” (Air Force Civil Engineer Center, 2014)

The $243 Million Energy Savings Contract

As the construction phase of the second (2012) ESPC was ending, the base knew that the overall work was not yet done. The success they had seen so far was just the tip of the iceberg, and there was still a long journey ahead to realize the full value of the ESPC’s projected energy savings. 

In 2015, the base received a new Commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center, Major General Lee K. Levy II. Maj Gen Levy supported the Energy Program efforts to pursue a single large ESPC. With the motivation set by the Presidents Performance Contracting Challenge, Tinker AFB did just that: they went big, planning the largest ESPC the Air Force had taken on to date. 

Tinker AFB’s 72nd Civil Engineer Squadron, 76th Maintenance Support Group, AFCEC Energy and Operations Directorates, and the Defense Logistics Agency worked together to define the scope of work. Following the DOE IDIQ bid process, Tinker AFB selected and contracted with Honeywell. (U.S. Air Force, 2020)

In December 2016, Tinker AFB and Honeywell embarked on a $243 million ESPC. By the end of the contract, the base would see a 23 percent reduction in energy consumption and save $20.5 million a year on energy and operational costs. A total of 50 buildings would be upgraded and modernized.

The scope of work included the remaining ticket items that needed upgrades, including new chillers, LED lighting, automated industrial processes, smart meters, energy management control system, on-demand ventilation, new compressed air retrofits, updated wastewater treatment, and a decentralized steam heating plant. To carry out the upgrades, 19 energy conservation measures (ECMs) were implemented. The most expensive and significant ECM was the completion of steam decentralization on base, which combined two ECM’s and comprised roughly 50 percent of the project.

Energy related and process improvements included: two new 2,000-ton chillers to increase the reliability of the cooling system

  • more efficient LED lighting with wireless controls
  • automated tank covers and software to schedule production equipment
  • smart meters to monitor and track building energy consumption more effectively
  • new infrared heating at openings
  • an Energy Management Control System
  • demand control ventilation
  • new compressed air retrofits
  • upgrades to painting and thermal spray booths to increase reliability and safety through enhanced controls and sensors
  • updated wastewater treatment systems to provide equipment control and alarm monitoring
  • replaced aging high-pressure gas distribution systems to improve worker protection
  • decentralized steam heating plant with a distributed heat system to reduce energy use

(McNair, 2020)

Construction wrapped up on June 30th, 2020. Based on FY2020 data, the base had dropped from number one to five on the Air Force’s list of highest energy consumers. That data also shows that the annual utility bill for the whole base was $29.3 million, a $16.7 million reduction from FY2012-2015 data. The OC-ALC utility bill was $17.1 million, a 13.1 million reduction. Because of the close partnership between Tinker AFB, Honeywell, and Oklahoma Gas and Electric, the OC-ALC projects 35 percent reduction in energy usage and 9 percent decrease in water usage. 

New boiler pumps replaced a central steam plant system. Photo by AFIMSC Public Affairs. (McNair, 2020)
Replacing aging high-pressure gas line distribution systems. Photo by AFIMSC Public Affairs. (McNair, 2020)
A construction worker works in the demolition site of Boiler #1 in Bldg. 3001 on Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. The original boilers were installed around 1942, making them the same age as Tinker itself. Photo by U.S. Air Force, Kelly White. (McNair, 2020)

Interview with Tinker AFB Energy Managers

Energy Services Media had an opportunity to interview Joseph Cecrle, OC-ALC Energy Manager, and Joey Hunter, Tinker AFB Energy Manager, also known as Air Base Wing Civil Engineer. 

ESM: How did the frequency of communication during the large ESPC with Honeywell differ from past projects?

Cecrle: Since the project was so large, we had more real-time dialogue, rather than a traditional project where there is more back and forth and a potentially longer review period.

Hunter: Our timelines for review, especially for the largest $243 million project, were much shorter than a traditional construction project. What I see in my world, from a CE perspective, is that the government usually sets the tempo of a construction project, so we’re driving contractors to meet their contract schedules for our normal construction projects. ESPCs tend to work the other way around. The ESCO is driving a very aggressive schedule. We had to do a lot of work within our own organizations to prep them for working with a high-tempo project.

ESM: How did you manage scheduling construction and implementation of 19 energy conservation measures (ECMs)?

Hunter: This project was so large that we had multiple construction projects in the works simultaneously. We met with the ESCO weekly for updates and status report meetings. The ECMs were grouped into eight major categories, to allow us to prioritize and focus on particular projects in order to complete the progress of a category. Overall project scheduling definitely had to be orchestrated well. We would run into the occasional delay because of unforeseen conditions, especially when working with underground work, but that is to be expected and is its own challenge to work through.

Cecrle: With a project this size, Honeywell provided a dedicated project scheduler who often met with production schedulers on our side of the house. This happened both directly and indirectly because we had representatives from all the production groups attending these regular meetings. During construction phases, we would have two or three recurring meetings each week to talk about slightly different aspects of the ongoing work. One of them was dedicated to nothing but project scheduling.

ESM: At any point, did the scope of work scale back from what was originally presented?

Cecrle: During the preliminary assessment, there were some things we identified that just didn’t have the payback we needed. Some of these were due to the expense of implementation being greater than the estimated savings within a payback period. In other cases, we looked very specifically at some of our industrial processes and realized that there were limits to what the ESCO could sell, for example, to a production shop. We did make some production changes, but there were several that we looked at and agreed that there was too much dependency on the behavior of the shop that was out of the control of the ESCO.

ESM: What advice would you give to other military bases looking to pursue an Energy Savings Performance Contract?

Cecrle: ESPCs should align with other efforts the installation is pursuing and other goals the installation has. Energy projects shouldn’t be something that are done in a silo. You should also keep the bigger picture in mind and not be distracted by projects with super quick payback and very little maintenance. These are worthwhile, but the larger projects are where you really begin to make a difference. You can accomplish hard projects; it just requires hard work to be successful.

Hunter: Take as much training as you can, and make sure to understand the fundamentals of an ESPC and third-party-funded contract. Both Utility Energy Service Contracts (UESC) and ESPCs are very fast-paced contracts and may cause disruptions to civilian life on the base due to the tight timeframe for construction. Keeping everyone updated with what is to be expected and having them on board with the changes can sometimes pose a challenge.

I would also advise that those interested in pursuing an ESPC take the time to develop a deep understanding of operations and maintenance (O&M) savings. O&M is critical to maintaining a high level of performance on the upgrades completed through the ESPC. In our case, Tinker AFB is a contracted maintenance organization, which is not the case for many other bases. Tinker AFB was able to realize true O&M savings but it required a de-scope of the Base Operations Support contract to remove overlapping maintenance work. Finally, I’d recommend that the ESCO be responsible for all future maintenance of systems that they’ve installed.

ISO 50001 Certified

Following the implementation of the largest Energy Savings Performance Contract in Air Force history, the Oklahoma City Air Logistic Complex (OC-ALC) was the first federal organization to become ISO 50001 certified. 

The certification requires a lengthy process of conforming to the ISO 50001 management standard involving improvements in energy performance, which are then reviewed and certified by a third party. 

“This certification provides sustained program structure and imposes a rigorous international energy management standard centered around continual improvement, enhancing energy, controlling costs, operations and maintenance savings, and safety.” (McNair, 2020)


Air Force Materiel Command. (2012, July 20). Air Force Sustainment Center. https://www.afmc.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/1561716/air-force-sustainment-center/

U.S. Air Force. (2015). LIEUTENANT GENERAL BRUCE A. LITCHFIELD > U.S. Air Force > Biography Display. https://www.af.mil/About-Us/Biographies/Display/Article/108330/lieutenant-general-bruce-a-litchfield/#:%7E:text=July%202012%20%2D%20present%2C%20Commander%2C,Center%2C%20Tinker%20AFB%2C%20Okla.

Tinker Air Force Base. (2012, August 1). Tinker Air Force Base Fact Sheet. https://www.tinker.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/384766/tinker-air-force-base-fact-sheet/)

Air Force Materiel Command. (2012, August 1). Air Force awards massive energy-saving project at Tinker. https://www.afmc.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/153607/air-force-awards-massive-energy-saving-project-at-tinker/

Air Force Civil Engineer Center. (2014, September 22). Tinker AFB fired up with Energy Saving Performance Contract. https://www.afcec.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/871557/tinker-afb-fired-up-with-energy-saving-performance-contract/

U.S. Air Force. (2020, October 6). Tinker AFB completes construction for Energy Savings Performance Contract project. https://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2373336/tinker-afb-completes-construction-for-energy-savings-performance-contract-proje/

McNair S. (2020, October 5) Tinker completes construction for the Air Force’s largest ESPC project. Defense Logistics Agency. https://www.dla.mil/AboutDLA/News/NewsArticleView/Article/2371412/tinker-completes-construction-for-the-air-forces-largest-espc-project/

Dupree J. (2017, January 10) DLA Energy Awards Largest Air Force ESPC. Defense Logistics Agency. https://www.dla.mil/AboutDLA/News/NewsArticleView/Article/1046295/dla-energy-awards-largest-air-force-espc/