September 14, 2011

Implementing DOD Energy Programs Requires Navigating the Red Tape

Successfully implementing new energy programs at DOD
installations often requires a sophisticated understanding of state regulatory
bodies and coordination with public utility commissions. A recent example at
the Twentynine Palms Marine base in California demonstrates why and what is at

According to a recent Greenwire
report, the Marine base’s natural gas cogeneration plant that produces
electricity and hot water – powering at least 57 percent of the base – is running
up against regulatory challenges as California prepares to put into force its
2006 landmark climate change bill that aims to cut the state’s greenhouse gas
emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.  While
most state and federal
greenhouse gas requirements
exempt combat-related activities – especially for
tactical vehicles – DOD’s installations are not fully exempt from those regulations.
Acquiring additional exemptions requires DOD to reach an agreement with the
individual state and local regulatory bodies enforcing those laws.

The Department of Defense is already making its case to the
California Air Resources Board to reduce the burden on the Twentynine Palms
base, according to Greenwire. “In comments
filed last December with the California Air Resources Board (ARB), the Pentagon
argued that the law may amount to an unconstitutional tax by a state on the
federal government,” the report said. “Moreover, federal law could prevent DOD
from participating in the trading portion of cap-and-trade scheme, the military
argued. Being
unable to buy allowances, DOD said, the base may be forced to produce less
electricity from the plant in order to meet emission requirements
.” That, of course, would hurt the base's efforts to reduce its reliance on
the vulnerable civilian electric grid.

The ARB is reportedly interested in working with the
department to reach an agreement that would allow the base to continue running
the cogeneration facility without any (stifling) penalties. “The
agency understands the military's predicament and is interested in reaching an
agreement that goes beyond solving the Twentynine Palms base's problem and
addresses the military as a whole
,” Greenwire
reports. “ARB
has made exceptions for the military on other issues in the past

It is unclear whether or not the base will receive a
complete exemption, but regulators have hinted at a range of options that would
not chill DOD’s efforts. Such options may include “flexibility
with offsets, operational controls and the ability to delay compliance for a
few years
,” or possibly giving DOD “permission
to subdivide large bases that are similar to municipalities into smaller pieces
based on operation
. That means that emissions from a base's airfield,
hospital and ship repair center could each be counted separately.”  

The relationship that DOD and ARB seem to have demonstrates
that the military and state regulators can work together to accomplish their
goals. Having the flexibility to work with regulators is necessary to prevent a
chilling effect that could take hold at DOD installations that are trying to
develop new energy programs, including renewable energy projects that actually
reduce the military’s carbon footprint. The same holds true for working with
public utility commissions that regulate how much energy from renewable energy
projects can be put into the civilian electric grid.

Navigating the red tape is not easy, of course. Moreover, as
more states move to enact climate legislation, other DOD installations are
likely to experience the same regulatory challenges. Harnessing these lessons
and ensuring the DOD and its bases have individuals with a sophisticated
understanding of state regulatory bodies and public utility commissions will
help the military navigate the red tape and achieve its energy security goals.