In the News

Sandra Erwin - Democratic lawmakers are introducing new legislation in support of Defense Department investments in renewable energy and fuel-saving programs.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.; and Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., unveiled April 30 the Department of Defense Energy Security Act of 2014. Udall sponsored a similar bill in 2010 with then Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.

Udall and Peters are making a fresh push for energy legislation as the armed services committees begin to mark up the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act.

Although the broader goals of the 2014 DODESA are similar to earlier versions of the bill, energy priorities have shifted in recent years as U.S. forces continue to withdraw from Afghanistan. At the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of troops were killed or injured as a result of attacks on fuel convoys. The Pentagon's response was to encourage the military services to equip units with solar-powered generators and other renewable energy to help reduce the demand for conventional fuel.

The new legislation promotes the idea that investments in renewable energy made over a decade of war should not be lost, said Michael Breen, executive director of the Truman Project and Center for National Policy. Some of the provisions in DODESA include policy recommendations made by CNP.

“The provisions of this legislation are critically important because our military faces considerable energy challenges,” Breen said April 30. “Our military is the largest institutional consumer of energy in the world, projected to purchase more than 100 million barrels of fuel in fiscal year 2014 alone,” he said. “With our military positioning greater force structure in U.S. Pacific Command, the largest expanse of sea and sky in the world, our fuel burden will only increase.”

The 2014 DODESA would expand research in more fuel-efficient tactical vehicles for the military, create a "warrior power" executive agent to speed the development of systems that reduce the number and weight of batteries ground troops must carry, and create a "secure energy innovation program" to ensure continued operations at military bases in the event of a power outage.

“Reducing fuel consumption and energy costs can save lives,” Udall said in a statement. “This common-sense legislation is a ‘silver buckshot’ approach to help the Pentagon cut waste, reduce energy costs, and allow our military to bring more combat power to the fight.”

Proponents of renewable energy cheer the decision by Udall and Peters to revive DODESA.  

"With the Asia pivot, we believe it will be more difficult to fuel the force given the diversity of missions over much longer distances and more sophisticated adversaries," said Stacy Closson, assistant professor at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, and a co-author of a CNP study titled, "The Rebalance to Asia: Implications for U.S. Military Energy Use."

It is important that the Defense Department transition energy lessons from war to peacetime, she said. In conversations with Pentagon officials, Closson saw great enthusiasm for continuing to make the military greener. "They seem to be as committed as ever to displacing as much petroleum based fuel as possible."

The shift to Asia will require more fuel and more infrastructure, she said, which makes it more imperative to lower demand. The Defense Department is the nation's single largest consumer of fuel, requiring about 90 million barrels of oil, at a cost of nearly $15 billion per year, or about 1.3 percent of all U.S. demand. Within the Defense Department, 75 percent of fuel is used by operational forces, whereas 25 percent goes to installations.

Closson said operational fuel demand is projected to increase 11 percent by 2025. Even in times of budget cuts, investments in energy efficiency must continue, she said. The Defense Department allocated $9 billion for energy efficiency programs between 2013 and 2017.

One of the military's toughest energy problems in war has been the heavy consumption of batteries, which adds to the supply and transportation burdens. "The Defense Department has more than 40 executive agents but nobody focused on warrior power," said Nancy E. Brune, executive director of the Kenny Guinn Center for Policy Priorities, and a co-author of the CNP study.

Alternative energy advocates suffered a big blow during last year's NDAA markup when Republican lawmakers inserted an amendment that limits the Pentagon's authority to buy or produce biofuels unless the price of alternative fuels drop to the equivalent of conventional fuel. The amendment put the Pentagon in the crossfire of the nation's polarized politics over energy.  

"Biofuels remain a third rail politically," Brune said. "The Defense Department and the Navy recognize that energy security is about diversifying the sources of fuel," she said. "About 2 percent of operational energy over the next five years is committed to alternatives. But there's a need for greater collaboration with the private sector and other areas of government," she said. "Whether they can scale up production of biofuels remains to be seen."

The CNP paper calls for Congress to approve long-term (up to 10 years) contracting authority for the Pentagon to buy alternative fuels. This would "enhance developers' ability to secure critical financing and recoup capital investments. Potential alternative fuel suppliers have indicated to DoD that long term contracts of at least 10 years are necessary because production capabilities for these types of fuels are commercially underdeveloped."

Another CNP proposal is to promote greater use of renewable energy and energy efficiency for unmanned systems, including solar and fuel cells. Brune said the Defense Department should equip and train its acquisition professionals to better consider fuel efficiency in weapons development and procurement.

Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox in April signed a directive titled, "DoD Energy Policy" that states it is Defense Department policy to "enhance military capability, improve energy security, and mitigate costs in its use and management of energy."