Greening the fleet

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Jackalyne Pfannenstiel ’69 sails into uncharted energy waters
November 1, 2010

A swath of green grass greets me as I emerge from the Washington, D.C. Metro. Thanks to a local friend who had clarified the difference between the Pentagon City Metro stop (a shopping mall) and the Pentagon stop, I’ve managed to arrive at my destination on time and without getting lost.

I follow several people proceeding in the direction of the nation’s defense headquarters, to where an awning extends from a kiosk, and join the “official business” line. In just a few minutes I enter the approximately 12-by-12-foot kiosk for the required security check. Presenting two IDs, I explain that I have an appointment with Jackalyne Pfannenstiel ’69, the Navy’s recently appointed Assistant Secretary for Energy, Installations and Environment. I empty the metallic objects on my person into a tray, and submit it, my shoulder bag, and myself for screening. (Unlike at the airport, I do not need to remove my shoes.)

I had been instructed, after clearing security, to phone Pfannenstiel’s office for an escort. Presently, a young man dressed in the Navy’s khaki uniform appears and introduces himself as Lieutenant Commander Jessie Santiago, USN. Entering the Pentagon, he escorts me past the random screening area to another checkpoint where, after being directed to stare into an electronic device, I receive an identity badge.

The interior entrance area consists of a massive staircase flanked by two enormous quilted U.S. “flags,” one whose design, Santiago explains, was composed of small photos of victims killed in the 9/11 attacks, which included a lethal strike on the Pentagon itself.

Welcoming and engaging, Santiago plies me with interesting facts about the Pentagon, which is essentially a small city equipped with office space for approximately 23,000 military and civilian personnel. In addition to offices, the Pentagon houses a number of services catering to the men and women who spend a significant chunk of their lives there, including a pharmacy, florist, hair salon, jewelry shop, athletic facility and cafeteria. Men and women in both civilian and military attire move purposefully, but not hurriedly, through corridors whose floors are polished to mirror-like perfection.

The corridor leading to Pfannenstiel’s office, lined with portraits, photographs, and murals of combat scenes, impresses with its Spartan elegance. The office, carpeted in navy blue, is spacious and quiet. In addition to the desk and conference table, there is a small seating area with a chair, sofa and coffee table where we sit to talk.

Green is the new Navy


Jackalyne Phannenstiel '69 sits at her desk in the
Pentagon.

A slim, petite woman who speaks with quiet authority, Pfannenstiel was appointed to her post by President Barack Obama on March 5, 2010. She is one of four assistant secretaries, each with a different area of responsibility in this civilian “secretariat” of the Navy headed by Secretary Raymond Mabus. In concert with the Obama administration’s emphasis on energy security, Mabus announced in October 2009 five “targets” for drastically reducing the Navy and Marine Corp’s energy consumption (see sidebar), including a greater reliance on alternative sources to create a “Great Green Fleet” of nuclear- and biofuel-powered ships and airplanes.

As a leading expert in energy policy, Pfannenstiel is the point person in the mission to “green the Navy.”

She’s certainly qualified. With her 30-plus years’ experience in energy policy, and special interest in alternative energy, Pfannenstiel believes that the goals set out by Mabus, while clearly ambitious, are attainable. One of her first tasks after taking office was to co-host, with U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, the first of several energy forums on biofuel production. According to Pfannenstiel, the Navy/USDA partnership will “enable us to reduce our petroleum consumption and increase our alternative energy opportunities. The Navy and Marine Corps’ operational capabilities will benefit from a more secure energy future.”

Pfannenstiel’s first Earth Day in office coincided with a test flight at the Naval Air Station in Patuxent, Md., of the F/A 18 Super Hornet fighter jet, dubbed the “Green Hornet.” The jet flew on a 50-50 mix of conventional jet fuel and biofuel derived from camelina, a nonfood member of the mustard family that can be grown in all 50 states and rotated with food crops.

In May, Pfannenstiel headed to the island of Guam, where a new base is being planned for 8,000 Marines and their families being relocated from Okinawa, Japan. The relocation is contentious: it is estimated that the new installation will increase the island’s population by as much as 20-percent. Residents are voicing concerns about the new base’s impact on island infrastructure and resources, and Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson made headlines by complaining that the influx of population would cause the island to “tip over and capsize.” It’s one of Pfannenstiel’s many responsibilities to navigate these tricky political waters and arrive at a sustainable solution.

Pfannenstiel estimates that she spends 20- 25 percent of her time traveling to the Navy and Marine bases that she now oversees, assessing energy initiatives, housing, training and recreational facilities. Of Mabus’ five energy goals, the one she finds most challenging is the requirement that half of the Navy’s approximately 100 domestic and international bases be “zero net energy” by 2020.

“Half of the bases will have to generate as much energy as they consume,” she explains. “I personally think that’s the most interesting of the goals, because it’s going to require a great deal of creativity. ... It will be some mix of reducing energy load and producing on-site alternative energy. Every single installation we have will be some unique combination of the two. I love the idea of each base looking at its own situation and trying to develop the resources it needs to become net zero.”

Pfannenstiel is quick to point out that the drive to be green is already underway at a number of installations. “I’ve been out at a few of the bases and they’re doing amazingly creative things,” she notes. “Part of my job is to help them get what they need, whether it’s knowledge, or metering capabilities or money, whatever they need to do it.” Pfannenstiel’s personal goal as assistant secretary is to encourage a culture of energy awareness, and she’s confident that Navy and Marine personnel are ready to jump on board.

“It’s partly our responsibility as policy makers, as leaders, to get the word out,” she says, “and that’s what I feel I have the opportunity to do. What I’m finding in the military, certainly the sailors and Marines that I’ve been working with, is that these people are really dedicated to doing the right thing. There’s this passion for wanting to get it right. They all understand the need for energy security and independence, so they want to find the right pathways. And to the extent I can help them do that, we’ve got great opportunities to make a difference.”

In April 2008, Pfannenstiel returned to Clark to deliver a lecture on campus sustainability as part of Clark’s Difficult Dialogues project. Asked today what skills she’s used to negotiate difficult dialogues throughout her career, her answer dovetails neatly with her philosophy that awareness is a crucial element for effective action.

“Knowledge is quite powerful,” she reflects. “The more people know and are able to deal with energy on a rational basis of tradeoffs, I think [the dialogue] becomes, not always easier, but perhaps less emotional. We’ve not, as a society, done a very good job educating people about energy.”

Teaming with Schwarzenegger

Pfannenstiel attributes much of her success to being in the right place at the right time. When she graduated from Clark in 1969 as an economics major, she had no idea that energy would become her passion and career focus. Her first job was as a statistician with the Connecticut Department of Welfare. But then came the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, which woke economists to the fact that energy was a very scarce, costly resource. Pfannenstiel says she “stumbled” onto an opening at the Connecticut Utilities Commission helping to price energy.

“That was my first introduction to energy, and I was just hooked,” she recalls. “There were so many aspects of it — pricing and conservation, different resources and resource capabilities, structural and regulatory issues, ownership.”

Two and a half years and a master’s degree later, she was a relatively experienced public utilities executive and the embodiment of her favorite quote by Louis Pasteur: “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

Word of her expertise reached the West Coast, and Pfannenstiel was recruited by the California Public Utilities Commission as a senior economist. From there she moved to Pacific Gas and Electric Company in San Francisco. When she retired 20 years later, it was as the company’s vice president for corporate planning.

In 2004 Pfannenstiel was called out of retirement by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appointed her to a five-year term with the California Energy Commission, which she eventually chaired. One of the initiatives she promoted in that capacity was a plan to include solar energy panels in new-home construction by getting major developers to invest in the technology and applying the economies of scale to keep the price of materials and labor affordable.

The diversity of the Schwarzenegger administration was a bonus.

“His administration was exciting,” she says. “He was somebody who absolutely seemed to have no issue of gender or political party or age. So it was a very good administration in which to work.”

At the close of her term in 2009, Pfannenstiel again attempted to retire. Although a self-described “energy wonk” who couldn’t “understand why everybody else isn’t just fascinated by energy,” she had been harboring a desire to do something different, perhaps study photography, teach history, or open a bookstore.

“I was very happy being retired. But Ray Mabus had just come in, and he was looking for someone to help him with an energy program,” she says. “The word went to the White House and they interviewed somebody who, for various reasons, ended up not being able to take the position. She recommended me, so the White House called me completely out of the blue last August. I went from being totally relaxed, on vacation, to getting wound up and finding myself here.”

Coming of age in the Age of Aquarius

Pfannenstiel attended Clark during the social and political turmoil of the 1960s and she noticed a big change on campus over the course of her undergraduate career.

“My first two years at Clark were more of a traditional college experience,” she muses. “More fraternity parties, pranks, much more what people would think of in the 1950s. The last two years were marked by Vietnam and protests and civil rights. It was a much more intense experience.”

That was also the decade of “women’s lib.” Pfannenstiel believes she was one of the first women to graduate from Clark with a major in economics. Another is her longtime friend and classmate Mary Ellen Krober.

“When Jackie and I switched our majors to economics our junior year in 1967, the Economics Department welcomed us without reservation,” Krober recalls. “Right away, our Price Theory professor, Dr. Herrington Bryce, asked us to help him with a study he was finishing about the net wages earned by migrant farm workers who traveled throughout the northeast U.S. picking various crops, and we were acknowledged in the finished version of the paper. Heady stuff for undergraduates who were only very recently declared economics majors.”

Pfannenstiel’s career is marked by a couple of significant “firsts” — first woman VP at Pacific Gas and Electric and first woman chair of the California Energy Commission. She is only the second woman appointed to the Navy position she now holds.

Asked if she considers herself a feminist, Pfannenstiel acknowledges that the word means different things to different people, but her answer is unequivocal.

“I always did, and still do. Throughout my career there have been times when I’ve been held back by being a woman, and there are times when I’ve been given a break by being a woman. I think the world has gotten a lot better for women moving up the professional ladder, and I certainly see it around here — women who are just as ambitious and prepared as any of their counterparts.”

Nonetheless, like many married women with children who also pursued a career outside the home, Pfannenstiel struggled with the conflicting demands of career and family. In a 1995 interview for a San Francisco Chronicle article titled “The Bay Area’s Most Powerful Corporate Women,” she said, ‘‘Every single day it’s a choice. We’ve been very fortunate in having a live-in baby-sitter. That’s given me a lot more flexibility than a lot of women have. But kids need a lot of parental time and help and involvement. You balance as well as you can.’’

Thinking back to her time at Clark, Pfannenstiel elaborates on the benefits of attending a coed institution.

“I think one of the things I got most out of Clark was that it’s a coed world out there. My classes were men and women. The discussion groups we got into, the competition in classes — you had to deal with the fact that it was coed. So when I got out in the world, I think I had less difficulty dealing with male colleagues and developing good relationships.”

Pfannenstiel is quick to point out that she didn’t discover her interest in energy until after college. Now, with two grown sons (one still in college), she understands the pressure on students to choose a career early. But she urges current Clarkies to resist that pressure and to enjoy their college years.

“It’s the best four years ever, because you are surrounded by interesting people, wonderfully stimulating things to think of and work on, and it’s all about you. I have dozens of wonderful memories, and some of my best friends today are Clark friends,” she says.

“Jobs will come. If you don’t know [what you’re going to do] on graduation day, it’s okay. It will happen. Just accept the fact that you’ll get a job some day. You’ll be a better person for it, too.”

When it comes time to leave, I am escorted from Pfannenstiel’s office by Sgt. Lauren Ferrell of the United States Marine Corps. With her working uniform and boots, tightly restrained hair and thick mascara, her demeanor is at once feminine and fierce. As we chat, I ask why she had joined the Marine Corps. She explains that she had wanted to serve her country, and that the Marines had made it possible for her to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and an M.B.A. She says she had been wounded in Iraq and that her husband had served six tours in the Middle East.

I am taken aback by this revelation, and experience a rush of humility. I don’t remember exiting the building. I just remember shaking her hand, and thanking her for her service, inspired by another woman who, like her boss, had found a place to follow her passion.


This story was originally published in CLARK Magazine, fall 2010. Photography by Kathleen Dooer 

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