Could the armed forces be greener?

Udall to introduce bill to expand energy efficiency in the military

Sen. Mark Udall announced Wednesday he will soon introduce a bill that would expand on efforts to make the military less reliant on fossil fuels and more energy efficient – alleviating what some have called a key strategic disadvantage of the armed forces.

“This bill addresses the military’s single largest vulnerability: its dependence on fossil fuel,” the Colorado senator said at a Wednesday morning news conference. “Our legislation will make America more secure. It will save taxpayer dollars, and it will save lives.”

The bill, called the Department of Defense Energy Security Act, would encourage a comprehensive policy for increasing energy efficiency in the Department of Defense.

Although the department has made limited forays on this front, Udall said a militarywide, systematic approach is needed.

“We owe it to our troops and the American people to find ways to use energy smarter and more efficiently,” he said. “And I believe this bill takes us in a some important directions to make this a reality.”

Some of the department’s recent efforts include the Navy’s Great Green Fleet program, which aims to deploy a fleet powered entirely by alternative fuels by 2016, and the Air Force’s certification of biofuels on its jets.

In addition, the Army has recently launched the Net Zero pilot program that requires participating Army installations to produce as much energy on site as they use by 2020. Fort Carson in Colorado was selected to participate in the program and already has one of the largest solar arrays and a robust recycling program.

Despite these efforts, however, Udall said the Department of Defense is a major energy consumer, using 135 million barrels of oil and 30 million megawatt-hours of electricity each year.

Although the armed services’ energy usage accounts for less than 2 percent of all U.S. consumption, it makes up more than 90 percent of the government’s consumption. Defense officials previously have said it is likely the world’s largest consumer of petroleum products.

Udall said that the Department of Defense’s energy consumption costs the taxpayers about $20 billion a year.

He also said it comes at a high price for human life. Each year, thousands of armed service members in Iraq and Afghanistan are injured and killed in attacks on fuel convoys, he said. One Army study found that for every 24 convoys sent out, one soldier or civilian was killed.

Navy Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn and retired Brig. Gen. Steven Anderson, who joined Udall at the conference, said that energy efficiency translated into military effectiveness.

Citing one example, McGinn said renewable-energy technologies, such as flexible solar blankets and fixed solar panels, helped a Marine battalion serving in Afghanistan be more effective.

He said the battalion used 90 percent less fuel from diesel generators. Marines also were able to reduce loads of batteries carried in backpacks from 25 pounds to 5 pounds for a three-day mission, leaving more room for ammunition. And fewer convoys were needed to ferry fuel.

“They were out there in the field really, really making a difference in mission effectiveness,” he said.

Udall introduced similar legislation in the Senate last year, with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who introduced the bill in the House of Representatives. Provisions of last year’s bill were passed in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, and provisions of this year’s bill also could be passed in upcoming authorizing legislation.

Karen Frantz is a student at American University and an intern for The Durango Herald.