Military Base Housing To Roll Out New Utility Billing Program

Military Base Housing To Roll Out New Utility Billing Program

Amid energy prices that are increasing, defense officials have taken the first step toward bringing utility bills back to residents of privatized housing, but the timeline and details are still fuzzy.

On Dec. 16, Department of Defense (DoD) officials sent a memo to the branches about new utility billing rules and policies under the "Resident Energy Conservation Program." It works the same way as the old program of the same name. Tenants who conserve energy get rewarded monetarily, while those who don't get charged more.

In the past, military families have complained about the fairness of the program, particularly the accuracy of the meters measuring gas and electricity usage and the billing.

As provided by the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, the Navy and Air Force will suspend their utilities billing programs in 2020. The Army suspended its version in 2019, following congressional hearings and military town hall meetings after residents complained about mold, water intrusion, rat and insect infestation, and other problems.

There is little information available on the services' requirements for the new utilities billing program; DoD spokesman Peter Hughes said the attachment to the memo will not be released because it is "sensitive."

Hughes said that utility billing programs might not be in place at all installations, or the conservation program may not apply to all utilities on a building. 

Alternatively, the billing program may not include all privatized housing units on a given installation. He explained that these decisions would be made specifically for each [privately owned housing] project, installation, housing neighborhood, housing unit, and utility.

As a result of the 2020 law, DoD was required to suspend the utilities billing program on an installation until they could certify to the congressional defense committees that 100% of privatized housing units were individually and accurately measured for energy consumption.

If DoD could not provide that certification within two years of the law being enacted, the billing program at the installation would be terminated. 

Consequently, the billing programs of the services ended on Dec. 20, 2021. The Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment Steven J. Morani has signed the policy guidance for the new program's services version.

Previous utilities conservation programs had their roots in the desire of defense officials to provide benefits for residents in privatized housing to conserve energy and decrease utility consumption - thus reducing the overall costs for landlords. 

Before implementing these programs - beginning around 2010 for some installations - residents' utility costs were included in their rent paid to their landlord. Rent generally corresponds to residents' Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). As part of the BAH, which differs by rank, dependent status, and geographic location, utility costs are considered.

Previous versions of the Resident Energy Conservation Program calculated the baseline average utility usage for homes, offered rebates or credits to tenants who consumed less energy than that baseline amount and billed those who consumed excess energy. 
Therefore, it was to the residents' benefit to conserve energy - provided that the billing procedures were accurate.

Families with special-needs members needing equipment that uses more energy can get an exception to this baseline, referred to by DoD as the "utility allowance."

Hughes says that the DoD policy provides overarching guidance on:

♦ How to figure out a service member's utility allowance or baseline use;
♦ Inclusion and exclusion criteria for individual units in the billing program;
♦ What you need to report
♦ The billing requirements; and
♦ Set up protocols, approvals and notifications.

Hughes said the new utility billing program would require, among other things, meter accuracy and verification of meter connections. Those are the basic requirements.

Advocates, who haven't seen the new requirements, have many questions about timeframes and how the services will implement them.

"How can the services verify that they can handle this in a standardized way, invariably?" Kelly Hruska, governmental relations director of the National Military Family Association, asked. "We stopped the program because there wasn't any standardization. So what's different now?
She thinks they'll need at least a year's worth of data. It's impossible to apply December standards to Corpus Christi in July."