United States Military: Renewable Energy is a Matter of National Security

United States Military: Renewable Energy is a Matter of National Security

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When it comes to defending the United States of America, renewable or clean energy is not about the environment; instead, it’s about mission readiness, longevity, and stamina. We want our troops and our defense systems prepared for short and long-term missions and logistical operations at home and abroad. That means outfitting our military bases and equipment — from the individual soldier to large-scale weaponry — with the most powerful and energy efficient systems and tools at our disposal. Energy is a matter of national security.

The CNA Military Advisory Board (MAB), an elite group of retired three- and four-star flag and general officers from across all branches of the military had the following to say about energy’s relationship to national security:

“Assuring that we have reliable, accessible, sustainable, and affordable electric power is a national security imperative… Whether it is the ability of first responders to answer the call to emergencies here in the U.S. or the readiness and capability of our military service members to effectively operate at home or deployed in theater, these missions are directly linked to assured domestic electric power.” (CNA Military Advisory Board)

According to Military.com, our fighting forces are dedicating at least $7 billion to renewable energy projects, and our military leaders would like to see that number reduced while continuing to optimally prepare our warriors for the energy realities of 21st century defense. The Pentagon therefore takes the stance that clean power is often better, regardless of the environmental benefits. As stated in Bloomberg: “Congress, the White House, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have all encouraged the military to clean up its energy sourcing.”

As John Carter, Texas Republican Congressman and Chairman of Homeland Security Subcommittee, summed up so aptly:

“(Clean energy) frees up money to be able to make better soldiers…. So, if it’s cheaper energy, it gives us more money in our pockets to spend on training up the best warriors in world.” (US Military)

Graph showing Google and The Pentagon, i.e., the military, as the top consumers of renewable electricity, photo courtesy of Bloomberg
(photo courtesy of Bloomberg)

Addressing our military’s energy needs has been swift and with few barriers. Bloomberg’s analysts reviewed a database of more than 600 corporate power-purchase agreements (PPA) and found that the The U.S. Department of Defense’s purchasing of renewable electricity is second only to Google (Bloomberg).

To give you a sense of the breadth of our military renewable operations, this map shows the renewable energy projects of our armed forces:

Map showing renewable energy projects of military branches, photo courtesy of Energy Works for US

(Image courtesy of Energy Works For US)

Clearly our armed forces are taking clean energy very seriously. And it’s not just military getting involved; even the biggest defense contractors like Lockheed Martin are investing heavily, applying their high-tech military knowledge to energy markets (Bloomberg).

Army

The Army aims to reduce its $1.3 Billion portion of the DOD’s energy bill (Military.com). It current has:

  • Enough renewable energy to meet 12% of its demand (Scientific American)
  • 17 large-scale renewable projects in the works (Scientific American)
  • The largest renewable energy project in U.S. military history will soon begin at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Military.com).

At Fort Drum, for example, the army is burning wood chips to fuel electric generators around the clock. Here are the stats:   

  • The 60-megawatt biomass power plant;
  • Providing 100% electricity to all 168 square miles of Fort Drum;
  • Enough to power 750,000 homes (Military.com).

At Fort Hood, the Army has installed a massive solar farm. Here are the stats:

  • 63,000 panels
  • Covering 132 acres or 100 football fields
  • Powering the equivalent of 10,000 homes per year
  • Costing $100 million
  • Saving $168 million over 30 years (Military.com)

Marine Corps

Col. Brian Magnuson, the director of the expeditionary energy office in the Marine Corps, said that “renewable energy systems at the individual or unit level have saved lives by cutting down on refueling trips in battlefields.” (Scientific American) The Marines Expeditionary Energy Office lays out their plans for modernizing energy consumption and production. A few facts from the report reveals why clean energy is so important:

  • Significant increase in energy use among the military, including the army, navy, and marines since Vietnam War, stat box courtesy of USMC Expeditionary Energy Strategy

    (Image courtesy of USMC Expeditionary Energy Strategy)

    USMC consumes in excess of 200,000 gallons of fuel per day in Afghanistan;

  • Each of the more than 100 forward operating bases in Afghanistan requires a daily minimum of 300 gallons of diesel fuel;
  • USMC has had a 300 percent increase in the use of computers, and the number of radios has increased threefold — all are reliant on increasing amounts of power;
  • The Marine Corps intends to increase operational energy efficiency on the battlefield by 50 percent;
  • They aim to reduce fuel consumed per Marine per day by 50 percent;
  • Through alternative energy production and energy demand reduction, they want 50 percent of USMC bases and stations to be net zero energy consumers by 2020. (USMC Expeditionary Energy Strategy)

The energy map below shows that USMC has been busy building solar capacity, but also has other renewables in their energy mix:

A great example of how the Marine Corps is diversifying their energy mix is the Marine Corps Logistics Base, where they use landfill gas (similar to several LFG operations in North Carolina) to generate clean energy:

  • The Logistics Base’s landfill receives approximately 100,000 tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) per year.  
  • The LFG operates a 1.9 MW combined heat and power generator;
  • The base’s total renewal energy use will soon be 22%;
  • It will cost $14 million to implement;
  • MCLB Albany will save $1,150,790 annually in utility operations;  
  • It will diminish MCLB Albany’s carbon emissions by 19,300 tons annually, equivalent to removing 16,000 cars from the road.

Air Force

The Air Force’s focus is on security over energy savings. They now have a procurement team that is seeking on-site distributed generation and smart microgrids to develop the “future of the Air Force” (Scientific American). In addition, they are operating a number of renewable projects on their bases already:  

Navy

The Navy, keenly aware of the national security risk posed by using petroleum, aims to generate half of its onshore energy needs from alternative energy sources by 2020 (Military.com). Ray Maybus, Secretary of the Navy, has set aggressive renewable energy goals (Military.com), and recently the Navy was responsible for the US government’s largest clean energy purchase ever (Washington Post).

How Does North Carolina’s Military Fit In?

Camp Lejeune Military Base

  • Row of Solar panels providing renewable energy to Fort Bragg NC militaryOne of four large solar projects in North Carolina
  • Began solar operations on November 21, 2015
  • Model 2 facility, i.e., it generates energy onsite that flows to an external grid for community consumption
  • 55,000 PV panels, producing 17 megawatts (MW) direct current, 13 MW alternating current
  • Powers 2,000 residential homes per a year (Military.com)


Fort Bragg Military Base

Soldiers working on Solar at Fort Bragg military base, image courtesy of TheStoryofCleanEnergy.comThe DOD recently announced that Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, NC will be the next military base to participate in the Solar Ready Vets program, which unites the workforce needs of bustling solar companies with the skills of the world’s finest defensive force: the United States military.

“Politics or ideology must not get in the way of sound planning.” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (Bloomberg)

National Security and Clean Energy Intertwined

Without a doubt, the United States military is investing heavily in renewable energy sources to ensure we not only engage in warfare to the best of our ability, but so that we also don’t have to engage in warfare related to our energy vulnerability. Whether or not one agrees with continuing to utilize fossil fuels, we all want our armed forces equipped with the most powerful and energy efficient systems and tools — this can only mean looking to clean energy sources to address our defensive needs. Our national security depends on it.

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