Energy & Environment

Pentagon looks to reduce $4 billion energy bill

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An average soldier on the battlefield in 2009 carried about 14 pounds of batteries to power radios, GPS, night vision systems and other electronics.

These days, that’s closer to 9 pounds.

{mosads}Taking weight off troops’ backs is one of the Pentagon’s wide-ranging energy initiatives, which cover everything from replacing light bulbs in stateside buildings to putting solar panels on forward operating bases in the Middle East.

“We’ve spent a lot of time trying to reduce the load of individual soldiers, sailors or in the Marines,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said at a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

“And one of the ways we have been able to do that is simply by renewable energy sources that reduce the weight that they carry in batteries alone, which is one of the biggest things that an instrument has to carry.”

The Obama administration, including the Pentagon, has warned that climate change is a national security threat.

And while the Pentagon’s programs are aimed at that threat, officials say their efforts are more focused on reducing costs and
improving capabilities.

“We know that we’re doing good for the environment,” said Amanda Simpson, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for operational energy. “We know that we are reducing the amount of fossil fuels, per se, that we are using. We are contributing less greenhouse gases per operation, but they are not the driving effort.”

Operationally, efforts to be more energy-efficient got underway after fuel convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan were attacked, Simpson said.

In response, the military changed out some generators to be more energy-efficient, started using microgrids to net generators together and installed solar panels, among other steps.

For example, the Marines have tactical solar panels they call GREENS, or Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Network System, that allow them to turn off their generators so they are silent and not generating heat, which could expose them to the enemy, Simpson said.

“When you now are reducing the amount of supplies that are coming to them, you don’t have to protect it,” Simpson said. “We don’t have to secure the route. We don’t have to have air cover. We can take those forces — those soldiers, sailors, Marines,
airmen — and direct them to the fight, rather than protecting, guarding, transporting, storing those fuel resources.”

Another major change is that dismounted soldiers now use rechargeable batteries instead of disposable AA batteries they tended to throw away on the ground, leaving a trail for the enemy to follow, Simpson said. The batteries can be recharged with solar blankets or any energy source they find in the field, such as discarded car batteries.

All new acquisition programs have to take energy into account, Simpson said.

For example, the Army, in conjunction with the other services, is developing new turbine engines for certain helicopters that reduce fuel consumption by 25 percent but allow the helicopters to fly farther, higher and with more payload.

The fiscal 2017 budget request asks for $2.5 billion for adaptation and improvement for the use of operational energy, Simpson said.

Lisa Jung, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for installation energy, said her focus is on reducing the Pentagon’s $4 billion annual energy bill — the single biggest expense on installations.

Since 2009, installations have reduced energy consumption by about 10 percent, she said. The Pentagon has been able to achieve that through basic projects such as installing high-efficiency air conditioning and lighting and fixing roofs and windows. That’s prevented $1.2 billion in new energy costs.

The Pentagon reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent from 2008 to 2015, said Maureen Sullivan, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for environment, safety and occupational health. That amounts to 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

The Pentagon’s energy programs could also affect the public’s energy use, said Sarah Light, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, who dubbed the Pentagon’s efforts the “military environmental complex.”

If the Pentagon invests more in energy-efficient technology such as solar blankets or microgrids, she said, the technology could become cheaper and more widespread among consumers.

“There are certainly versions of these technologies that are available to the public,” she said. “But the fact that the military is demanding them may both make these products more effective and reduce their prices for commercial consumers.”

As an example, she pointed to the military’s role in developing the Internet and GPS.

The Pentagon’s energy programs have both detractors and supporters in Congress.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said investing in energy-efficient technology is important to help reduce vulnerabilities on the battlefield.

“Our men and women deployed overseas are put at risk every time a fuel convoy is necessary to resupply an outpost, and our sailors are most vulnerable when they are in port, so being energy efficient really makes a real difference,” she said in a statement to The Hill.

On the other end is Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee. He supports the idea of the Pentagon testing alternative fuels when it uses research and development funds, he said, but opposes using operation and maintenance funds to do so.

Inhofe highlighted a July report from the Government Accountability Office that found the Pentagon paid $58.6 million for 2 million gallons of alternative fuel from 2007 to 2014, or about $29 per gallon. That’s compared with $107.2 billion for 32 billions gallons of petroleum, or about $3 per gallon.

The funding for the alternative fuel came from both research and development funds and operations and maintenance funds, according to the GAO.

Using operations and maintenance funds, Inhofe added, puts President Obama’s climate change policies above the Pentagon’s other needs.

“The administration has actively sought to shift the DOD to be the funding source for a costly and unsustainable green energy revolution,” Inhofe said in a written statement.

“The president’s misprioritization of taxpayer dollars is foolish. Funding prioritization must be on restoring our military readiness — ensuring we have the force structure, training and modernized equipment required to provide for our national security in this increasingly dangerous and unstable world.”

Tags Future of Energy Jeanne Shaheen Jim Inhofe

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