US Army Collaborating with Utilities to Reduce Energy Costs

Lean, mean, and green, the U.S. Army is increasingly known for its efforts to seek out renewable sources of energy, take the lead in clean energy, and design greener tanks.

Now the Army has asked the RAND Corporation to find even more ways to reduce energy costs in installations by working hand-in-hand with utilities.

The Army, which spent $1.2 billion on energy costs in 2010, is under legislative mandate to reduce their energy consumption 30 percent by 2015. To that end, one effort is the New Zero Energy Installations (NZEI), calling for installations to produce as much energy as they use in a year.

But even the U.S. Army is limited in investment options as funding for energy efficiency or renewable energy projects can be inconsistent. So the military is committed to working with utilities to reduce energy consumption, save money, and find creative sources of funding for energy projects. For utilities, working in conjunction with army installations can help increase profits, improve the company's image, and meet their own energy conservation goals.

A new RAND Arroyo Center report, "Making the Connection: Beneficial Collaboration Between Army Installations and Energy Utility Companies," provides a basis for military personnel and utilities to address some challenges and create a win-win scenario for all involved.

One clear barrier mentioned in the report involved utilities not wanting to enter into Utility Energy Service Contracts (UESCs). These help finance and implement installation energy projects (such as infrastructure upgrades), but require up-front investment by utilities with payback typically averaging 10 years. The report suggests utilities are not familiar with UESCs and have a perceived risk in working with military installations due to potential bureaucratic, red-tape headaches.

In the report, RAND recommendations include training installation staff, having personnel attend workshops, and ensuring new UESC policies are clearly explained to contracting officers. The Army should then reach out to the utility companies to educate them on the installation policies.

A consistent theme in the report was inadequate staffing stifled effective collaboration between the two parties. Some staff members at army installations simply don't have the experience and expertise to fulfill energy project initiatives (i.e. not understanding power purchasing agreements or complementary methods to UESCs).

Without awareness of funding mechanisms, a lack of professional expertise, or the reluctance of staff to move forward, renewable energy projects can languish for months or years or can be abandoned all together.

RAND recommended more staffing to fulfill project goals and compensate personnel a higher pay grade as a way to help energy projects succeed, especially for larger installations.

Still, a couple noteworthy examples of successful army projects were included in the report:

  • Fort Carson, El Paso County, Colorado -- This army base has one the most active and longest-running installation sustainability programs, which has included a large emphasis on energy conservation issues. Stretched across 138,303-acres, Fort Carson has about 750 buildings with 12.865 million square feet of heated space. With a long-term goal to reach 100 percent conversation of renewable energy for facilities by 2027, Fort Carson has developed the largest solar photovoltaic project in the Army, a 2-MW ground-mounted array on 12 acres atop a former landfill. In addition, with the direction of installation staff support, Fort Carson is interested in building a 7-10 megawatt wind farm, though construction is pending.
  • Fort Knox, Texas -- Perhaps the best-known Army installation with its coveted gold vault (the Fort Knox Bullion Depository), Fort Knox has about 2300 buildings, including an army hospital and privatized housing with about 10 million square feet of space. In conjunction with an ongoing relationship with Nolin Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation to complete projects, the army installation was able to reduce absolute energy use by 58 percent between 1996 and 2006.

The free RAND report can be downloaded here.

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