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Defense energy bill will save lives

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Defense energy bill will save lives

Giffords advisor on military energy strategy

  • Flexible solar shade panels at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti in May. The panels at the base, which run fans, hand held radio rechargers and lights, have saved the Army more than $230,000 since July 2010, the military said.
    U.S. Army photoFlexible solar shade panels at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti in May. The panels at the base, which run fans, hand held radio rechargers and lights, have saved the Army more than $230,000 since July 2010, the military said.

Saving energy saves lives.

That is how Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the imperative for the Pentagon to reduce the number of fuel convoys headed into harm's way in Afghanistan.

Congress must heed Mullen's advice and move quickly to pass legislation that was introduced last year by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado. Their bill, the Department of Defense Energy Security Act, has been updated and will be reintroduced on June 8 by Udall.

The goal of the bill is straightforward: It will enhance our energy security and make our armed forces more agile and more lethal.

As Congresswoman Giffords has said, the fuel that powers American military operations comes at a steep cost. The delivered price of $40 to $400 per gallon of fuel in Afghanistan pales in comparison to the cost imposed on our men and women in uniform.

More than 3,000 American soldiers and contractors have been killed or wounded protecting fuel convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those Americans died because terrorists listened to Osama bin Laden. In 2004, he ordered his operatives to "focus your operations on oil… since this will cause the (Americans) to die off."

Although his strategy has exacted a terrible toll, bin Laden underestimated our resolve.

The Department of Defense is developing a new energy strategy, and with it, technologies such as Army electrical micro-grids that could reduce fuel requirements by 15 percent to 20 percent, saving hundreds of millions of dollars and reducing the need for thousands of fuel convoys.

In a striking example of how energy affects battlefield missions, the Marines are developing an Experimental Forward Operating Base which allows them to shed weight from their packs by employing portable solar blankets for recharging their batteries.

The average soldier currently carries batteries weighing upwards of 35 pounds – the equivalent of about five M4 carbines with 30 rounds of ammunition. Such renewable technologies also allow Marines to drastically reduce their reliance on fuel and deploy longer without resupply.

The impact is clear: Less fuel means fewer convoys, fewer casualties and more warfighters focused on their primary national security mission.

The march toward energy security is happening at home as well. As we manage operations from halfway around the world – for example, piloting Predator drones in Afghanistan from an Arizona base – our domestic facilities' reliance on an aged and vulnerable electricity grid threatens our ability to win our wars overseas.

So military installations are working to reduce their energy needs in their facilities and diversify their electricity sources. For example, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson is developing a 14.5 megawatt solar array and the Defense Department's first energy-efficient aircraft hangar.

We also are developing technologies that will transform how our future forces use energy and wage war. The Navy is deploying hybrid-electric ships, such as the USS Makin Island, that will save millions of gallons of fuels and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. Meanwhile, the Air Force and Navy are testing and certifying alternative fuels in their planes to reduce their reliance on oil imported from nations hostile to the U.S.

The Department of Defense Energy Security Act will help the Defense Department in this ongoing effort. It will spur development of alternative fuels, drive energy efficiency and renewable energy, and create a joint services project to coordinate operational energy technology development for the warfighter.

Congresswoman Giffords and Sen. Udall share Adm. Mullen's belief that our military must change the way it uses energy to become a leaner and stronger fighting force. They know that the technologies the military develops will have applications well beyond the Pentagon.

If the military's development of satellites, aircraft and the Internet is any indication, the impact of its energy efforts on spurring our clean energy economy will be tremendous. These efforts can help transform our energy future away from imported oil and help impact the lives of Americans for generations to come.

Gavi Begtrup is a policy advisor to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.

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