Navy Suspends Controversial Housing Utility Billing Program, But Plans to Bring It Back

A 111-home family housing development at Trumbo Point, an annex of Naval Air Station Key West.
A 111-home family housing development at Trumbo Point, an annex of Naval Air Station Key West, Aug. 9, 2011. (U.S. Navy/Chris Carson)

The Navy is suspending a much-criticized program that charges military housing residents for going over a predetermined utility usage allotment. However, officials said, they plan to bring back a version of the program in the future.

The Navy's Resident Energy Conservation Program (RECP) will end at the end of the current or next utility billing cycle, a spokeswoman for Navy Installations Command said via email Friday.

The move comes after several days of confusion. The service received a letter Feb. 25 from Peter Potochney, acting assistant secretary of defense for sustainment, directing it to suspend the program, a move ordered in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

The nearly 10-year-old program is designed to encourage military families living in base housing run by private companies to conserve energy. The private housing company creates a normal usage baseline by averaging similar houses' electricity use and then billing families that use more than 10% over the baseline -- while giving a rebate to those falling more than 10% below that baseline.

However, the program has come under fire for inaccurate monitoring, resulting in anecdotal reports of unearned overcharges and other inequities.

On Feb. 26, Navy Housing announced in a Facebook post, "The Department of the Navy is directing that Navy privatized housing project companies continue live billing of the resident energy conservation program (RECP) until we receive guidance from the Office of the Secretary of Defense on how to execute an orderly suspension of the RECP."

Navy Housing updated this announcement at 3 p.m. Thursday, saying the program has been suspended according to the billing cycle timeline laid out in Potochney’s letter.

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However, the spokeswoman emphasized the suspension is not indefinite.

"The RECP suspension is temporary, and the Department of Navy intends to reinstitute the program at individual installations upon certification from the Secretary of Defense that 100 percent of that installation's PPV housing units are individually and accurately metered to measure energy usage of the housing unit," she wrote.

The NDAA provision allows for resumption of the program after the SecDef certifies that 100 percent of units are accurately metered.

The Army announced last year that it was suspending its own utility billing program. The announcement followed a March hearing on problems with privatized housing.

The Air Force's RECP program began in 2017 and about half of the 63 projects run by private housing companies have implemented it so far, officials said in an email Friday. But on Jan. 31, Air Force Civil Engineer Center Installations Director Robert Moriarty directed the private housing companies to suspend the program "as soon as practical" in the next billing cycle. 

"We will look at reinstating the program once we review each project and can adequately assure residents that the program is sound and fair,”  Moriarty said in a statement.

Marine Corps spouse and former journalist Kathleen Foley said that, while Congress directed the services to end RECP programs, lawmakers were not specific and did not give an end date.

"While timelines were written that certain aspects had to be solved within a certain time of the law taking effect, the law never explicitly stated when it had to begin," Foley said in an email. "Overall, this vagueness and seemingly disconnected communication causes confusion for the people it impacts the most: the residents."

Foley has dealt with RECP as a resident since the program’s inception in 2011 at Camp Pendleton, California, and now at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

While the program's goal is to encourage energy conservation, Foley said implementation of RECP has not been fair.

"RECP disproportionately impacts lower ranking and enlisted personnel with families more than anyone," she said. "Each home is compared with 'like homes' rather than 'like households.'"

Foley said this means a family of seven living in a four-bedroom duplex is expected to use the same energy as any other family living in a four-bedroom duplex, even if it's a family of two.

She said her family of six paid $139 in fees last month while her neighbors, a family of three living in a duplex exactly like hers, received a $50 refund.

"As a resident in military housing, one has almost no control of where they live, little to no control over maintenance, no control over whether things that draw massive amounts of energy are energy efficient," she said. "The perk to giving up one's entire [Basic Allowance for Housing] is that things like this are supposed to be covered and taken care of."

Compound that with what she found when reporting and living at Camp Pendleton. She said base houses are not meant to be individually metered. Street lights and sprinkler systems were often tied into a house's wiring, while some houses were sharing circuits, drastically increasing a house's electricity usage, she found.

"It isn't JUST about whether houses are individually metered, whether they are hooked up to street lights, or whether they are accurately being read," she continued. "All of that is important, but it's also about whether the program itself is designed to benefit the service members, or the third-party companies that contract with housing to bill the residents."

The CNIC spokeswoman said base residents can expect to receive one or more bill statements that may include rebates or charges before RECP is suspended. However, the Navy and private housing companies have not set a timeline for when these will be delivered or the bills due.

Statements will still be sent once the program is suspended, but only to show individual usage and rebates or bills families would have received under RECP, the spokeswoman said.

-- Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @DMillsGregg.

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