In the News

Annie Snider - When former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords (D) asked Gen. David Petraeus about the possibility of using solar technology on a military base in Afghanistan during a 2010 hearing, the video clip went viral and drew the ire of conservatives like Glenn Beck.

Today, Marine leaders widely attest to the battlefield benefits of equipment like solar blankets and deployable panels that reduce the number of batteries and fuel resupplies that troops need. And while issues like biofuels remain controversial, members on both sides of the aisle tend to recognize that some forms of renewable energy can bring a clear benefit to the battlefield or the military's bottom line.

Yesterday, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) attributed much of that change in attitude to Giffords, who made a rare appearance on Capitol Hill as the pair revived an effort she began in 2010 to incorporate energy provisions into the annual defense authorization process.

In 2010 and 2011, Giffords introduced a "Department of Defense Energy Security Act," or DODESA, with provisions aimed at better measuring the military's energy use, managing that data, testing new technologies and encouraging collaboration among services or departments. Many of those provisions were later introduced as amendments during the House and Senate markups of the annual defense authorization bill (E&E Daily, Dec. 16, 2011).

"That legislation ... bolstered the Pentagon's ability to save lives, reduce costs and boost combat effectiveness by reducing energy consumption," said Udall, who co-sponsored the 2010 and 2011 bills with Giffords. "If we can deploy more efficient technologies, we can spend less on fuel and more on troops and their equipment."

The 2014 version of DODESA introduced yesterday by Udall and Peters includes a variety of provisions largely drawn from two policy papers from the Center for National Policy. Among them are provisions to:

  • Authorize the use of third-party financing for energy efficiency projects on mobile assets, like ships and deployable generators. Such financing regimes for building efficiency have been extremely popular both at the Defense Department and in the private sector.
  • Encourage research on how to make tanks, humvees and other tactical vehicles more efficient.
  • Create a program to develop quantifiable metrics about the cost of power outages at bases to help military leaders better weigh the costs and benefits of energy investments.
  • Authorize the department to invest in infrastructure for nontactical alternative vehicles. The Pentagon has a major pilot program underway, testing vehicle-to-grid technology, but some of the big questions are around financing the infrastructure (Greenwire, Feb. 5, 2013).

One of the Center for National Policy papers notes that as the military shifts more of its assets to the Asia-Pacific region as part of a broad Pentagon policy, it will face major energy challenges as a result of the greater distances. At the same time, the military is developing new, more powerful -- and often more energy intensive -- weapons in order to be able to operate over this larger range.

Peters argued energy security equates to national security for the military.

"That's particularly important as we focus and refocus on the Pacific, with its great expanses and it's not-quite-finished-off infrastructure," he said. "We have to give the military the tools that they need to increase energy efficiency and self-sufficiency."