Home energy bills are not something most people think about when it comes to military energy conservation. Most service members are unlikely to think about them either, especially those who live in military housing, which are communities on or near bases that are managed by private firms. For soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines living in these communities, their Base Allowance for Housing (BAH) covers rent and utilities and is automatically taken out of their paychecks. While convenient and easy to manage, this system can have the negative, unintended consequence of removing responsibility for individual energy use – an issue of particular concern this time of year when temperatures are at their highest and air conditioners are working overtime.
For service members who do not live in privatized military housing, their BAH is not taken out of their paychecks, and they are responsible for paying rent and utilities. My husband and I lived off base at all of our duty stations and were responsible for paying our own bills. Although our BAH was specifically designated for these expenses, we conserved energy whenever possible to keep more money in our pockets.
The services are tapping into that economic behavior with branch-specific (Navy, Army, Air Force) energy conservation programs that follow a Defense Department mandate requiring individual service members to take responsibility for residential energy bills. The services have been working toward establishing such programs across all military housing. As the Defense Department responds to budget cuts and new warfare threats, energy efficiency is one of its main weapons to decrease costs and meet energy mandates.
The energy efficiency programs work like this: a baseline for average energy use is set for similar homes. A 10 percent buffer is added above and below the baseline. Residents who use less energy than the average receive a rebate on their utility bill. Those who use more energy pay an overage charge.
It's easy to understand how the incentive works, and most homes will fall within the normal range. The savings from energy efficiency will stay in the community to support the program and pay for home maintenance on the base.
The goal is not to penalize service members at home, but rather to help them think about ways to conserve energy outside of the base, ship, or aircraft, as well as assist the military in reducing costs.
Studies have shown that individuals responsible for their own utility bills tend, on average, to use up to 20 percent less energy. In fact, a pilot program in the Navy’s Southeast region lowered monthly energy use by an average of 16 percent per home, saved $20 on each home’s utility bill, and reduced monthly carbon dioxide emissions by 62 metric tons over the course of a few months.
These home energy programs save money, help mitigate climate change effects, and instill a lean energy mindset in service members and their families that will increase the demand for market-based energy efficiency solutions as they transition to civilian life.
My husband and I are out of the service now. We still keep a keen eye on our thermostat.