U.S. Military's Pursuit of Renewable Energy Should Earn Support of Policy Makers

It’s encouraging to any renewable energy stakeholder and advocate to see headlines in the past few weeks detailing the military’s surging and aggressive support for cleaner alternatives in powering vehicles, planes and, more recently, installations and operations.

Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded another 20 base contracts to companies for renewable energy-related technologies. The latest contracts are part of a $7 billion large-scale renewable and alternative energy power production effort and bring to 79 the number awarded in four energy technologies ‑ solar, wind, biomass and geothermal. And it’s a program that involves third-party funding, not Department of Defense money or military construction appropriations.

This month, the Air Force completed the biggest military solar power plant in the United States, launching a 16.4 megawatt facility at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. The new solar plant is expected to save about $500,000 in electricity costs annually while meeting 35 percent of the base’s electricity needs.

The new facility pushes the Air Force just ahead of the Army in online renewable energy capacity, but the Army continues its pursuit of renewable resources for power. A 2-megawatt, 12-acre solar panel array at Fort Carson, in Colorado, provides much of the installation’s electricity serving 19,000 personnel based there. And the base, which recently received the 2013 Federal Energy Management Program Director’s Award, saves more than $267,000 in annual utility costs.

We have touted the military’s initiative in the renewable energy arena before. But these events in recent weeks serve to underscore the magnitude and importance of the Department of Defense’s efforts to bring their energy and power operations into the new century.

What’s at stake? Here’s what Operation Free, a coalition of veterans and energy experts that advocates for securing America with clean energy, tells us: The military’s dependence on oil is a national security threat. It’s a threat compounded by climate disruption. The group points out that America’s dependence on oil and its variability in price hurts the U.S. economy, and despite recent increases in domestic production, there is no real control over this single source of energy. Furthermore, U.S. reliance on oil empowers countries and regimes hostile to the United States.

Because oil is traded globally, the risk posed by vulnerable trade routes – and the cost of protecting those routes – is a constant threat to U.S. security.

It’s important to remember that the U.S. military uses more oil than any other organization in the world, powering everything from tanks to fighter jets to Humvees to generators. Furthermore, delivering that oil on the battlefield is a dangerous job, the group points out, noting that in Afghanistan, one in every 24 fuel convoys ended with a casualty.

The military and the CIA both say that climate change is no longer a debatable question and makes the world a more dangerous place, creating new conflict zones that could stretch our military thin.

Given those concerns, and the fact that the U.S. armed forces are the nation’s single largest consumer of energy (20 percent of the U.S. military’s energy consumption occurs at its installations and the Defense Department pays around $4 billion annually to provide power to its 300,000 plus facilities in the U.S. and around the world), the Pentagon aims to continue expanding renewable energy generation on bases and in the field, pursuing a goal of producing 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.

An analysis released this week by the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE), Renewable Energy For Military Installations: 2014 Industry Review, points out that the pursuit of clean energy alternatives energy is not just a “policy objective” for the armed forces, but also an “operational imperative.” The deployable and decentralized energy production possibilities offered by renewable sources, and by enabling technologies like microgrids, have tremendous implications for the safety, security, and effectiveness of the military.

Renewable energy and efficiency improvements can increase warfighter capability, enhance the energy security of its installations, and cut operational and military base energy costs, ACORE’s report says.

The U.S. military is demonstrating real leadership in its pursuit of renewable energy and should serve as demonstrable proof to our nation’s policy makers of the need for domestically produced, clean energy source. Solar, wind, hydropower, biomass and geothermal sources of power can create thousands of jobs while enhancing our security and improving our environment. By supporting new fuels and stronger efficiency standards, the nation’s transportation fuel options become more diverse and less vulnerable to the prices shocks that come with global instability.

The 25x’25 Alliance commends those in the military and civilian sectors who had the foresight and courage to bring these new renewable energy solutions to scale and boost the efficiency and effectiveness of our military forces.

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