New Pew Report Charts Military's Progress on Clean Energy

As the nation’s largest energy purchaser and a trusted American institution with a critical mission, the Defense Department plays a huge role in the clean-energy sector. A new report from The Pew Charitable Trusts examines the military’s own adoption of renewable energy and finds that while a lot has been done to make the shift, there’s a long way to go in addressing this fundamental issue of national security.

 The 44-page report entitled “Power Surge: How the Department of Defense Leverages Private Resources To Enhance Energy Security and Save Money on U.S. Military Bases” describes the Defense Department’s clean-energy approach as building momentum, in part because it’s working with the private sector and getting third-party financing to increase the use of  energy efficiency and renewable energy on the nation’s 500 military bases. From solar power and microgrid demonstration at the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command in Twentynine Palms, California, to the ambitious net zero energy initiative at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York State, each of the military services and bases and installations across the country are moving forward to meet clean energy goals.

 The report illustrates clearly how thoroughly and well the military is pursuing its clean energy goals. Even in budget-strapped times, DOD’s and the services’ leaders are finding solutions to clean energy obstacles, and have a mandate not just to execute clean energy goals but to train its future leaders to think about clean energy needs as a major component of their work challenge.  From NRDC joins DOD in believing that development of clean domestic energy resources strengthens national security and mitigates the threats posed by climate change.

 How DOD got started on clean energy

 In 2008, DOD convened a task force to explore the military’s energy challenges. The DOD report, “More Fight-Less Fuel,” found that the military had two main challenges: the rising demand for fuel in combat and the military’s almost total reliance on the aging commercial power grid. 

Perhaps of all the choice facts in the Pew report, one in particular highlights the military’s vulnerability: In fiscal year 2012, there were 87 power outages of eight hours or longer at domestic military bases, with an estimated financial impact of $7 million. The nation’s 500 military bases are 99 percent reliant on the commercial grid for essential power needs. DOD is looking into ways to get the military moved into “microgrids” – on-site power systems that often incorporate combined heat and power system with distributed renewable power systems -- that feed their special needs and add to their energy independence and resilience.

This challenge offers opportunity to clean-energy companies that can address the needs of a military installation. The process is slow and takes huge planning. That’s why NRDC worked with DOD to develop a primer to siting renewable energy projects near military installations. These same lands also often support critical natural resources and rare and threatened wildlife. Avoiding conflicts with the military mission and with environmental values is a key responsibility in siting renewable energy facilities that we need so much and hope to see succeed.

 In the meantime, the military makes its cuts on the front end with energy efficiency techniques, including building energy efficiency retrofits, use of more efficient equipment and technology, improved metering in buildings and heavy promotion of reduced consumption.

 Important progress but a long way still to go

 The Pew report also offers a solid general inventory of where DOD gets its clean energy and where it expects to get more.  Examples include

 * A large fraction of its current capacity of 384 megawatts came from the geothermal energy plant at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif., a project in place for 25 years.

 * The second-largest component of the military’s deployed renewable energy is solar power, now 33 percent of the total. As an example, the 1.5-megawatt rooftop solar array and shade structures at its Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif., saved the U.S. Marine Corps $3.2 million.

 * Another 322 megawatts of additional clean-energy capacity is under development at military bases to be added over the next 24 months, an 84 percent increase over 2013 levels.

 * Of the capacity under development, 64 percent is solar photovoltaic, 20 percent is wind energy, and 9 percent will come from biomass projects.

 Despite this progress, DOD knows the clean-energy road is long and there are obstacles that need to be overcome.  For instance, siting considerations are an important challenge and the deployment of clean energy needs to be “smart from the start” and avoid conflicts where possible.  Ensuring strong finance options, tax incentives and policies to build clean energy demand and reduce costs are also important.

The military has long been a leader in technology development of all kinds, but the Pew report shows that DOD is more serious than ever about embracing clean energy and it’s not wasting any more time in getting projects off the ground. DOD can lead the nation toward a more secure energy future.