Over the past couple of months I have had the opportunity to address a number of different audiences on the topic of energy security and DOD’s efforts to secure their mission critical requirements. Many of these have been sponsored by academic or industry groups who do not engage with the Government on a regular basis. None of these events were held within the Beltway. I always make sure that the audiences know that I do not and cannot speak on behalf of the Government, only as an observer. On at least two occasions I have passed invitations to the Government in hopes of an official spokesman, but have not been able to bring that about. I have made two observations from these events.
First, in some cases, the general population has little understanding of the challenges DOD faces in regard to energy security and, therefore, has no idea that DOD is taking aggressive steps to remedy the situation. They are surprised to learn that DOD is the largest energy user in the country. When I explain that DOD is three million people, 2.2 billion square feet of building space and has a utility bill of $3.9 billion, you can see the lights coming on. When I further explain that the mandates of EPACT 2005, EISA 2007, NDAA 2007 and EO 13423/13524 require DOD to reduce energy use and increase renewable/alternative energy consumption they light up with hope. “Hey, if DOD is on it, we can rest assured that our energy dilemma can be solved!”.
The second observation is that for those who are somewhat informed, their working assumption is that DOD is going to spend a lot of money to secure its energy requirements. When they hear that the Army is seeking $7.1 billion in investment for renewable energy at installations, they want to know who to call. I am asked, invariably, whether or not the Department is willing to pay any kind of a premium for energy security and I inform them that, from all indications, DOD can only pay the market rate for a kilowatt-hour or a gallon of fuel. Even with that bit of deflating news, academia and industry are heartened to hear what is going on.
The lessons here are pretty straight forward. Like politics, in DOD all energy projects will be local. Washington can write the policy, shape the discussion and hold conferences, but it will be Fort Homefront that will write the RFP, coordinate with the utility and deal with myriad local issues that must be resolved in order to get a construction job done. The Army’s Energy Initiative Office (Task Force?) is a great idea. It will serve as a one stop clearing house for legal questions, financing advice and resolution of policy issues, but Commander Righthere will make the decision at his/her base. Washington can expedite; Homefront will decide.
I would like to see DOD engaging groups outside the Beltway by providing TDY funds for local commanders and/or DPWs to attend and address local gatherings and energy forums. Those folks would be much better spokesmen than yours truly and they would be able to speak with conviction. At the last conference I attended in Raleigh Durham, someone from Fort Bragg happened to be attending and when encourage to address the audience, spoke with eloquence and authority. His message was well received.
This October there will be at least three DOD related energy conferences occurring in DC. They will be expensive to attend and will have all the usual suspects and PowerPoint. I would encourage the DOD energy leadership to start sending folks from local installations to local energy conferences. There are no finer ambassadors for the energy efforts than the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines and their civilian counterparts who are working the issues every day. If the purpose of the conferences is to share information and understanding, get out to the hinterland and let Mom and Pop’s Solar Panel Company know what the opportunities are and how to access them. Big Defense Industries already know what to do. Let’s leave K Street behind and go check out Main Street. Dan Nolan
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