Misawa’s bright idea: Cut off runway lights at night
TOKYO — Col. R.C. Craig always wondered why the flight line was lit up so brightly when he drove through the base late at night, especially since no flights were coming in or going out.
That nagging question turned into $56,700 in projected annual energy savings for Misawa Air Base when officials took Craig up on his idea to turn out the lights at night.
"I’d see a field of hundreds of lights and knew it consumed a significant amount of energy," Craig, vice commander of the 35th Fighter Wing, said in an e-mail Monday.
In years past, the light bill for the airfield has averaged around $85,000, according to Dave Lochtefeld, the resource efficiency manager for the 35th Fighter Wing. Going dark at night — which involves little more than flipping a virtual switch on a computer system — is estimated to cut the airfield’s electricity bill by two-thirds. Already, airfields at Yokota and Kadena air bases take similar measures.
"There’s no compromising in aircraft safety," said Senior Master Sgt. Charles Washington, who manages the airfield. "It’s just something that made sense."
The move will have no effect on operations or training. The air base for some time has limited flights between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., according to Washington. If there is a need for the lights during those hours, turning them on takes less than a minute, he said.
Washington said that Air Force bases in the States typically do power down the approach light bars, the blue taxi lights and the runway lights when not needed at night. He said he didn’t know why that wasn’t happening in Japan.
The base has other energy and water savings plans in place, part of multi-year requirements to decrease consumption at all military bases worldwide, according to Lochtefeld.
This fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, the base has $1.3 million to spend improving the base’s steam heating system and to search for water leaks throughout the base, Lochtefeld said. Other energy savings will come from installing lighting sensors in 14 buildings and low-flow shower heads in base houses.
Each year, the base must decrease energy use by 3 percent, Lochtefeld said. Turning off the airfield lights probably won’t account for one of those percentage points. But it’s helpful, he said, especially because there’s no upfront cost for this type of conservation.
"In the big picture, it’s relatively small," he said of the projected $56,700 annual savings. "The nice thing about this is it’s zero cost to implement."