Bliss hosts inaugural 'energy rodeo'

By Stephen BaackJune 9, 2010

FORT BLISS, Texas (June 9, 2010) - With the goal of reaching "net zero" by 2025, the inaugural Renewable Energy Rodeo and Symposium swept through Fort Bliss Tuesday and Wednesday, leaving in its wake the ideas, tools and innovations ready to make the installation the Army's Center for Renewable Energy.

The event, held at the post's Centennial Banquet and Conference Center at East Fort Bliss, presented a variety of energy technology demonstrations, several discussion panels and dozens of exhibitors, including General Dynamics Land Systems, Lockheed Martin, General Electric, Raytheon, Polaris Defense Industries, 3M Defense, Honeywell and others. The U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center co-hosted the symposium.

The idea developed when Fort Bliss Commanding General Maj. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg discussed the idea with Dr. Grace Bochenek, director of TARDEC, at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting in October. Bromberg and Bochenek agreed Fort Bliss could be a model for the Army.

Together they came up with an event to bring attention to what Bromberg, Bochenek and many others consider a "critical need for our forces of the future," Bromberg said.

As the commander of Fort Bliss, Bromberg said he might be biased, but said the post is in a unique position for the Army. Eighteen months ago, the Department of Defense and the Army's staff for Installations and the Environment conducted an analysis of Fort Bliss' renewable energy potential.

"What we found in our region here is we are at the nexus of all types of renewable energy, from geothermal, wind, solar and we're going to get into biomass," Bromberg told reporters during a press conference on day one. "Where other installations may be able to just focus on one, we can focus on all four."

Bromberg also cited the strong mix of forces that are assigned and that will be assigned to Fort Bliss within the next few years, including a Styker brigade, heavy brigade combat teams, infantry brigade combat teams, air and missile defense and signal. These forces are part of Fort Bliss' multi-billion-dollar expansion that has doubled the physical size of the post's main cantonment and will triple the population through 2012.

"We capitalize on the work that the Future Force Integration Directorate's doing as they work through the modernization of the Army," Bromberg said of the Bliss unit that tests new Army equipment. "You can bring all these together in a holistic fashion, tied to the largest growth in DoD. So we have an opportunity that no one else has.

"Certainly we're going to pay more for energy here, and anything that we can do to get ourselves set to reduce that cost of the future is definitely going to be not just to our advantage, but also the region's advantage and the Army's advantage," he added.

In the past year, Fort Bliss has reduced its energy consumption by 10 percent, said Bromberg. He cited a few practices, including building energy-efficient buildings during Bliss' expansion. The new post exchange, Freedom Crossing, is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-standard compliant. Also, the Directorate of Public Works has put in energy-saving modifications on existing buildings - solar panels, natural lighting and new roof designs.

Some of those changes took little technology, but more of a different way of thinking.

"Here in El Paso, on the older, flat roofs you use tar and rock in some cases, so we went to white roofs. It's a material and it reduces the inside temperature of the building by 'X' number of degrees. It was very inexpensive to apply."

"Energy is a complex challenge for all of us," Bochenek told reporters during the press conference. "It's a challenge for the nation. And the Army is taking it front-on."

The Army's realization of the need for renewable energy throughout its ranks has been a multifaceted process, according to Bromberg. One facet the Army has to deal with is the need, historically, for great logistics support - and especially throughout the last nine years of combat - in theaters of war.

"When we look particularly at Iraq and Afghanistan, looking as we face the [improvised explosive device] threat, and we said, 'Boy, you're putting Soldiers at risk and you're putting Airmen at risk, Sailors at risk, Marines at risk to move one gallon of fuel across the battlefield.'

Army leaders started looking at the problem differently, asking "'Can we do something to reduce that exposure and to allow our forward forces to operate more effectively and efficiently''" Bromberg said.

Beyond logistics, he said it was "just an evolution of thought as you're going to look at how the military's going to operate. And we all know if we can solve some of these logistics problems, I think you could see what the Army does operationally could be far, far different than how we operate today."

Away from the press conference, Fort Bliss has already started operating differently today. This week, four Fort Bliss houses with Soldiers and families living in them are going off the grid through the use of solar power. Fort Bliss officials will collect the data on how well it worked and where the installation can take that into the future, said Bromberg.

Bromberg said the great thing is that the Army lets Fort Bliss keep those savings on post for other activities.

"If I can save a million dollars on an energy bill, I can apply that million dollars into other renovations; I can apply it into other activities on post," he said.

Despite the positive developments, Bromberg and Bochenek said they are well aware of the challenges, but Bochenek said the technology the Army has been investing in for the last 15 years is ready for installations and forward on the battlefield. Fuel-efficiency has been one of TARDEC's main areas of focus.

"The investments have been there for fuel efficiency on the vehicle side for many, many years," she said. "And also on, 'How do you make the forward operating bases more energy efficient'' ... I think it's a marriage of the readiness of the technology at the same time the recognition from the Army to make those kinds of changes."

And if the position of the El Paso Regional Economic Development Corporation is any indication, the El Paso community is ready for these changes too. REDCo, whose job it is to bring new businesses and industry to the region, has worked much of its strategy through "close concert with Fort Bliss," said Bob Cook, president of REDCo.

"We're here to meet with companies too who are focusing on the right kinds of technologies that are going to be delivering cost-effective solutions," said Cook. "It's those kinds of companies with those kinds of technologies that we're interested in, in bringing into the area."

Cook said plans are already in place to use similar technologies throughout the city while Fort Bliss does so.

"I think we have to do it together," Cook said of El Paso's aim to match Fort Bliss' energy goals. "As Fort Bliss is leading the way in terms of energy security, energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy, the community that Fort Bliss is co-located with has to do it at the same time."

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