GUEST COLUMN: Udall leads charge on military energy security

By: Mike Breen
May 16, 2014 Updated: May 16, 2014 at 8:30 am
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Last week, I was proud to stand with Sen. Mark Udall and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to introduce the Department of Defense Energy Security Act (DODESA). This legislation is designed to help create a more formidable, more effective, and more efficient U.S. military by meeting the pressing energy security needs of the 21st century.

Like many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, I learned the hard lessons of energy security on the battlefield. Our military is the largest consumer of energy in the world, and our adversaries have continually exploited this dependence as a vulnerability. For thousands of veterans like me, that meant daily fire fights on isolated combat outposts to protect the truck convoys bringing the fuel we needed to power generators and vehicles.

The Department of Defense has been leading the way to develop new ways to power our force more effectively, including wearable solar panels and hybrid-electric vehicles to reduce the need for those dangerous fuel convoys. However, with budget restrictions dominating the news cycle and many of our troops returning home, it is easy to forget that energy needs remain a key national security challenge.

Sen. Udall has been a leader in energy security for years. In 2011 and 2012, he and Rep. Giffords worked tirelessly to integrate smart policy provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act. They advocated for provisions that would spur the development of advanced fuels and create space in the DoD for research on sustainable technologies that directly benefit troops in the field. Clearly, Sen. Udall realizes that energy security for our military will require a relentless focus on three core principles: freedom of action, assured access, and minimizing risk.

To maintain freedom of action and respond quickly and decisively to threats, our military must increase the range and endurance of its ships, aircraft, and vehicles. DODESA provides authority for innovative financing of efficiency projects - ranging from installing LED lighting on ships to retrofitting aircraft with more efficient turbines - at absolutely no cost to the taxpayer.

Meanwhile, our domestic military installations are overly reliant on a dangerously fragile civilian grid. Our troops at home require uninterrupted sources of electricity as they directly support operations overseas more than ever and play an increasing role in disaster assistance to local communities. DODESA creates a Secure Energy Innovation Program, which will help ensure critical military installations remain functional even if the civilian grid goes down. Taken together, these policies will help generate secure, resilient, renewable power for our military installations.

Finally, the DoD has explicitly defined climate change as a threat-multiplier, making natural disasters and conflict over resource scarcity more frequent and extreme. To minimize risk in a changing security environment, our military must be ready to respond to threats with a unity of effort across DoD and the military services. DODESA will create an energy project database that ensures the hundreds of projects and technologies our military is already developing to confront its energy challenges will be mutually reinforcing and not redundant.

Colorado military installations are already leading the most innovative energy security efforts. Fort Carson is home to the military's most ambitious microgrid project, creating a networked backup supply in case of power disruption. Smart measures to ensure resiliency in case of damage to our critical infrastructure serve as a model for bases across the country, and it is inspiring to see Colorado leaders like Sen. Udall pushing even more innovative reforms on a national scale.

It is time to act on the urgent issue of energy security. DODESA makes our military more efficient abroad and more resilient at home, and the challenges it seeks to answer will only grow more pressing without action. Every citizen should rally behind this innovative legislation and urge their representatives in Congress to provide the policy support to our military necessary to its enduring mission to fight our nation's wars and keep us safe.


Mike Breen is the leader of Operation Free, the clean energy campaign by veterans, as well as the executive director of the Truman National Security Project and the Center for National Policy.

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