Green Skies Ahead for Cape Air
Cape Air’s Green Initiative director, Jim Wolf, has for many years been a master storyteller on the Outer Cape. “I know the power of stories. I know we need to have the good ones told,” he says. Now in his corporate role in charge of transforming a heavy energy-consuming business into a sustainable energy leader, he’s developing a story with far-reaching implications – and he hopes it will be a best seller. Wolf says, “There’s a component of storytelling when you work on what does it mean for an airline to go green.”
Wolf says Cape Air’s Green Initiative will have lots of stories as it rolls out, including blogs, Web videos, business presentations, and testimonials from among Cape Air’s 850 employees, in 40 locations in the United States and abroad, who make eco-friendly changes at home.
The major blockbuster so far is the airline’s activation this summer of its massive 258-kilowatt array of solar photovoltaic panels on its headquarters and hangar at Barnstable Municipal Airport in Hyannis. The solar panels, interconnected to the electrical grid, are expected to produce 280,000 kilowatt hours a year, an amount equal to the electricity used by 30 average homes in Massachusetts annually. It will furnish all the 50,000-square-foot facility’s electricity needs; and Wolf says the annual reduction in carbon output will be like taking 100 cars off the road.
Being at the forefront of renewable energy applications fits right in with Cape Air’s business philosophy. “We consider greening to be part of something we’ve always been. It isn’t new. It’s about social responsibility,” Wolf says. “We believe in deeply committing to our community, and our first community is Cape Cod.”
The solar project employed several local and regional firms during its design and construction, including Alteris Renewables, Inc., Bayside Electric of Hyannis, Lohr Construction, Inc. of South Dennis, and project engineer Michele Cudilo PE, of Centerville, who oversaw the integration of the structural aspects of the design.
The hangar site, with its expansive, unshaded roof, was ideal for the project. “When you have a roof like ours, you almost have a responsibility to do solar,” Wolf says.
The solar project is the largest in Southeastern Massachusetts, but Wolf hopes it will encourage other firms to do even bigger ones, not just because it’s the right thing to do for the environment. “It’s a good business payback,” Wolf adds. With funding aided by a grant from the US Department of Agriculture’s REAP (Rural Energy for America Program) and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (now Massachusetts Clean Energy Center) rebate program, company officials estimate their investment will be “cash positive” within two years and paid back within six years through savings in energy expenditures.
“This is an example of what can happen when business and government work together toward a shared goal, in this case increasing renewable energy applications. This type of project is challenging, but we hope our success will motivate other businesses to explore the types of renewable energy projects that could apply at their facilities,” says Dan Wolf, Cape Air founder and CEO.
Cape Air’s solar installation may be what Jim Wolf describes as the “sexy” project, but it’s only part of the Green Initiative. To reach the company’s goal of reducing total energy expenditures at its headquarters by 25 percent and reducing fuel consumption on its airplanes by 10 percent to 15 percent per flight, Cape Air has taken steps to improve efficiency within its facility and in the broader air transportation system. “Greening is efficiency, and efficiency is supposed to save money,” Wolf says. “Conservation and efficiency go hand in hand with renewable energy as part of the solution.”
The airline’s hangar, which is essentially a 35,000-square-foot garage, was low-hanging fruit for implementing efficiency measures. Company officials brought in Cape Light Compact to conduct an energy audit and make recommendations. They installed optical motion sensors so the light strings near the doors would turn off when activity wasn’t occurring in that sector.
“We’re talking about saving 15 percent in electricity by turning off lights,” Wolf says.
Insulation is another big part of the equation. The hangar itself, which is often exposed to the weather, needed to be better insulated. And the insulating barrier between the hangar and the contiguous administrative offices needed bolstering to keep the indoor temperature comfortable. The company plans to replace the 1970s-era boiler with a more efficient unit, too.
An airline is a fossil fuel burner by its very nature; so reducing the amount of fuel burned by Cape Air’s fleet could potentially save millions of dollars and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Wolf says they’ve been working with Teledyne Continental, Cape Air’s engine manufacturer, on optimizing flight power settings and fuel-injection improvements to increase fuel efficiency. They’re also working to reduce idling times at airports.
Even if an airline improves the efficiency of its own fleet, it still relies on an antiquated air-traffic control system that uses radar, rather than GPS (global positioning system) navigation. Because radar is less precise than GPS, planes have to be kept farther apart, which adds miles and fuel usage to each flight.
Cape Air is working with the Federal Aviation Administration on the next generation of flight technology using GPS, so the cost and safety benefits can be analyzed compared to traditional navigation. According to Jill Edwards, Cape Air safety analyst, “Cape Air will be receiving funds from the FAA to install six of these high-tech WAAS (wide area augmentation system)-enabled GPS units to our fleet of Cessna 402s… Already the data shows a decrease in time en route while using WAAS due to the direct routing between city pairs. This drives down fuel consumption and costs.”
As an employee-owned company, Cape Air employees are empowered to make green changes at the personal level as well as company- and industry-wide. When mechanics in the hangar realized that even with optical sensors, some lights were still on when no longer needed, they added a manual cut-off switch.
Wolf says that even small changes add up. To encourage those changes, the company plans to give each employee a 25-watt compact fluorescent light bulb for their homes. He says, “The amount of power produced by the solar project (at headquarters) equals the amount of energy saved if each employee replaced one 25-watt CFL where a 100-watt incandescent bulb was.”
Cape Air’s unique brand of customer service, which it calls MOCHA HAGoTDI, or “make our customers happy and have a good time doing it,” is going green, too. The title of the new chapter in the company’s story is GOPA HAGoTDI – “green our planet and have a good time doing it.”
Wolf looks forward to sharing Cape Air’s Green Initiative story so others in the business, energy, and transportation communities will have a model of how company focus and integrated changes can produce a better human and global environment. He says, “We’re inspired by others. A lot of things we do, we hope inspire others.”
Photography Courtesy of Cape Air
Written by Susan Spencer
Susan Spencer is an award-winning writer and photographer who lives in Brewster and Whitinsville, MA. She contributes frequently to CHA Magazine on energy, environment and health issues. You can reach Susan at ss1013 @charter.net