By Peter Lehner, Natural Resources Defense Council
When you’ve seen your soldiers die protecting a fuel convoy, you know that the need for clean energy and efficiency is real, urgent, and transcends political squabbling.
This Sunday four high-ranking officials from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines spoke out in support of a clean energy future for America. They published an op-ed in the Tampa Tribune, a paper based in the Sunshine State and located in the home of U.S. Central Command.
Brig. Gen. Steven Anderson, Lt. Gen. John Castellaw, Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn, and Lt. Gen. Norman Seip have a collective century of experience in defending America’s national security. And they all see our dependence on oil as a growing threat to that security.
The military services know they must embrace clean energy — not because it is cutting-edge or politically correct but because it makes sense for our troops and our country’s security.
“The military knows climate change is happening and that our current energy posture is a growing threat to national security,” write the generals and Admiral McGinn. “Clean energy is a solution we must pursue.”
Climate change deniers like to doubt scientists. Will they also ignore the logic of military men who have risked their lives for this country?
Together, these defense experts are calling on Congress to push for more energy efficiency and to enact policies that will help break America’s oil addiction. They see an intrinsic link between clean energy and America’s national security.
While the Tea Party yammers on about “risky” clean energy investments, top military brass see eye-to-eye with environmentalists, business groups and many Americans on this issue: the real danger here is continuing our oil addiction.
The U.S. military has been seriously looking at renewable energy for years – a lesson learned from the high casualty rates on fuel convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as rising fuel prices. As major energy consumers – the Department of Defense spent $15 billion on energy last year – the military’s interest in alternative energy opens up a huge market for nascent clean energy companies.
The Navy has been using wind energy in California since the 1990s. Its goal is to get half its energy from alternative sources by 2020. At the Naval Postgraduate School, future leaders are being trained in energy issues – creating a new generation, the Navy says, of “energy warriors.” Program graduates would advise senior officers and train new recruits in energy efficiency and renewable energy, or help make energy-smart purchasing decisions when the Navy invests in new equipment, vehicles and technologies.
The Army, unfazed by the brouhaha over Solyndra, recently announced plans to use its land as collateral to attract $7 billion in private investment in renewable energy projects on its bases, seeking a share of the energy in return. Six Army bases are working toward net-zero energy use by 2020.
Marines are carrying roll-up solar mats instead of heavy spare battery packs to power laptops, radios, GPS systems and other battle gear. The lightweight solar panels allow soldiers to move faster and farther, and dispense of the need for dangerous fuel convoys or helicopter runs to drop off batteries.
This spring, an Air Force F-22 broke the sound barrier flying on a plant-based biofuel blend, supplied by a company in Montana. The Air Force, the nation’s single largest energy consumer, spends about $6.7 billion on jet fuels each year, and is seeking alternative fuels to add to its energy mix. That applies to more than planes. At its Los Angeles base, the Air Force is replacing its fleet of general purpose vehicles – including sedans, trucks and buses — with plug-in electric vehicles. This is part of a larger Department of Defense initiative to electrify its vehicle fleet and expand solar energy use.
For the military, a shift to clean energy makes a lot of sense. It helps keep troops out of harm’s way, boosts operational efficiency, and provides long-term energy savings.
The military is moving in the right direction, but more can and should be done, both within the armed forces and across the nation. The faster we build a clean, renewable, homegrown energy supply, the faster we can bring our troops and contractors home – and have jobs for them at home in the growing clean energy industry.