Mission Assurance is Energy Assurance*

* This blog is co-authored with Sarah Ruckriegle, a graduate of the Air Force Academy, current Captain in the Air Force and law student at the University of Las Vegas where she is based.  Heidi Ruckriegle is an Associate with the Welborn firm.  

The United States Department of Defense (“DoD”) is the world’s single largest user of fossil fuels. DoD is comprised of three branches—Air Force, Army, and Navy—and reliable, affordable, and available energy is critical to each of their missions. The military spends $4 billion dollars a year to meet its energy needs and two-thirds of that energy is petroleum. Of the branches, the Air Force is responsible for using more than 2.4 billion gallons of jet fuel annually, making it the highest energy consumer. By contrast, the Navy uses roughly 1.3 billion gallons of fuel annually. The Army consumes much less energy because of its reliance on the Air Force and the Navy for transportation. The Army’s energy use is concentrated in its installations, which consume an average of 661.5 million gallons of petroleum each year.

DoD has identified its oil supply chain to the military’s land, water, and air equipment as a point of vulnerability. Aerial refueling and convoys transporting fuel can be extremely dangerous. In its 2011 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan, DoD wrote “attacks on fuel convoys and fixed energy supplies in Afghanistan, Iraq and surrounding countries already demonstrate the vulnerability of our current supply networks.” A 2009 Army Environmental Policy Institute report shows that between 2003 and 2007 approximately 50% of more than 3,000 U.S. troops and contractor deaths or injuries were attributable to fuel supply convoys in Afghanistan and Iraq. To reduce dependence on supply chains and oil, the military is broadening the use of solar and other renewable sources in meeting its defense mission.

The move to renewables will also help DoD meet new national directives to conserve energy and increase the use of renewable energy:

• the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requiring federal agencies to improve energy intensity by 30% as compared with 2003 baseline;
• the National Defense Authorization Act of 2007 mandating DoD secure 25% of its energy from renewable resources by 2025; and
• Executive Order 13514 issued by President Obama on Oct 5, 2009, directing federal agencies to develop and implement an annual Strategic Sustainability Performance   Plan to the Council on Environmental Quality between 2011 and 2021 and ensure federal buildings designed in 2020 or later are net zero for energy, i.e., not using more   energy than they produce, by 2030.

Further, in enhancing its renewable energy portfolio, DoD is also responding to two emerging threats to its operations around the world: climate change and cyberterrorism. Internal studies have documented the military’s vulnerability to disruptions to the power supply from cyber attacks and long-term impacts from global warming. In many parts of the world, DoD looks at global warming as a “threat multiplier,” meaning that increased pressure from progressively more severe weather is expected to exacerbate economic and political issues. Similarly, DoD is vulnerable in our wired, internet-centered, world. The April 2015 DoD Cyber Strategy focuses on building capabilities for effective cybersecurity and cyber operations to defend DoD networks, systems, and information.

The military’s ability to employ a defense force, execute a mission, or train for the future, is heavily dependent on fuel and the electricity that powers installations and operations. The various branches have identified “energy resilience” as a critical objective. The Army developed innovative private-sector funding of solar installations, a successful program that later launched the Office of Energy Initiatives in 2011. In turn, the Air Force has set the standard for utility-scale solar with its 14 megawatt giant in 2007, called “Nellis I” after its Air Force Base home. Nellis Air Force Base opened a second major solar array in February of this year. Seeking to strengthen alternative energy, the Navy has an ambitious goal of getting 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, while the Air Force and Army maintain more modest goals of 25 percent.

Solar maintains its position as the renewable resource of choice at military installations because tall wind turbines create the potential for collision danger to military aircraft operations and generate “clutter” from close-by wind turbine projects impacting airborne military radar capability. The hazards to air safety and surveillance presented by wind energy are unacceptable to DoD. However, as DoD continues to enhance its energy portfolio, geothermal and biomass have gained more recognition as possible alternatives. Each of the armed services has also established programs geared toward alternative fuel to replace petroleum in their tactical weapons systems such as aircraft, combat ships and vehicles, and supporting equipment. DoD currently uses gasohol and biodiesel in administrative and other nondeployable vehicles but continues to evaluate and test other alternative fuels (e.g., hydrotreated renewable oils, coal-derived or algae-derived fuels) for military applications. Considerations include whether the alternative fuel is cost-competitive, performance consistent, and emitting fewer greenhouse gasses.

On April 6, 2016, the Army and Air Force signed a Memorandum of Understanding confirming a common commitment to securing military installations with energy that is clean, reliable, and affordable. Large-scale renewable projects at military installations independent from the grid can keep the lights on in the event there is a cyber attack or severe weather event that knocks out power. Renewable energy projects located on or near military bases are vital to keeping missions and operations fully functional at a time when the Armed Services are increasingly reliant on electricity to keep the country safe.

The Air Force is aware that its global role and presence has changed; it needs guaranteed power for remotely piloted aircraft missions, missile launches, space launches, and satellite control. With new remote-controlled technologies, the Air Force has been fighting more battles from domestic bases—as a result installation energy security is even more important. Looking forward, the Air Force believes that in order to build resiliency its budget is better spent on renewable projects that cost less than traditional grid energy. Beyond domestic bases, the Air Force is also working on ways to improve energy reliability for its expeditionary forces by developing modernized equipment using solar panels and batteries rather than the expensive and dangerous conventional convoys or airdrops of fuel supplies.

DoD’s development of renewable energy is viewed by the agency as necessary but has faced some criticism on the Hill from renewable energy skeptics. Disagreements exist as to whether the DoD's efforts to move to renewable energy are more about politics than saving lives and boosting security. Among lawmakers' complaints is concern that the military is paying a higher price for some forms of renewable energy at a time when DoD proposes cutting weapons programs and reducing forces in order to meet budget mandates. DoD officials insist that their efforts focus on a single goal: finding the best way to power military missions.

National security will always be the Unites State’s top priority. In the words of George Washington, “to be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” How renewable energy will play a role in DoD strategy is just beginning to take shape.

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